Editorial, July 8, 2011

BDS: taking it to the max

THE hostile mob arrayed outside a Max Brenner shop in downtown Melbourne last Friday carried ominous historical echoes. Some 100 demonstrators shouting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” reportedly frightened shoppers and their children, and charges have been laid after police officers were injured in scuffles.

Make no mistake, this was not just a right of assembly, or even a pernicious boycott of a shop whose alleged crime, according to Australia’s encroaching Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is that its parent company stocks Israeli soldiers’ backpacks with its chocolate products.

Last week’s boycott and a similar one against a Max Brenner shop in Sydney last month were, as anyone who appreciates the significance of the chant and the underlying ethos of the global BDS movement, attacks on the very existence of the State of Israel.

As for the impact on Australian Jewry, the BDS troublemakers must surely  understand the resonance of their boycotts, so painfully similar to the Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in Germany and Austria at the onset of the Holocaust.

Further, one must wonder whether the decision to stage both the Sydney and Melbourne protests on Shabbat was a strategic one to ensure a minimal Jewish presence on the ground.

Which brings us to the vexed question of a Jewish response. There is considerable debate within the community as to what kind of reaction is appropriate. Nobody but our foes wants to see the spectacle of two groups of warring protesters involved in heated clashes in a retail precinct. But if there is no response on-site, there surely needs to be one in another place at another time – perhaps a positive rally, explaining Israel’s case, coupled with an education campaign through the media.

While our community’s state and national roof bodies are to be applauded for their strenuous efforts behind the scenes to protect Israel’s interests, the increasing frequency of the BDS protests and the publicity they are receiving means their significance  can no longer be downplayed as far as ordinary members of the community are concerned.

There is a grassroots appetite for a grassroots response and we should seek a way to harness that in a positive and constructive manner, so all members of the community feel satisfied they are doing their bit, rather than simply watching the anti-Israel drama unfold passively and powerlessly from the sidelines.

Flotilla farce is sheer poetry

THE 19th century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.” How apropos Emerson’s words are when we consider the recent actions of Turkey, Cyprus and Greece to prevent provocations by pro-Palestinian activists against Israel launched from their territory.

We’re talking, of course, about this year’s follow up to the infamous Gaza flotilla of May 2010. As you’ll recall, that contemptuous bid to flout an internationally recognised blockade of the Hamas-run territory led to a deadly confrontation with scores of Turkish militants who ambushed Israeli naval personnel with clubs, knives and live weapons.

It is still too early to evaluate Israel’s response to this year’s flotilla, but even before that die is cast, we can already find reasons for optimism.

Turkey’s Government, which eagerly backed last year’s flotilla, withdrew its support for this year’s flotilla early on. Cypriot authorities informed the seaborne protest’s organisers in no uncertain terms that their ships would be unwelcome on Aphrodite’s Isle. Flotilla organisers thought they had finally found a safe harbour in Greek waters, knowing that, more often than not in the past, Athens has lent a sympathetic ear to the Palestinian cause. Yet, as of this week, this assumption proved to be the biggest mistake for the would-be Gazan interlopers.

For supporters of Israel, it was almost worth the prospect of another flotilla confrontation to have the opportunity to observe the Greek coast guard heading off the ships before they had even properly left port.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the latest flotilla or its related “fly-in” stunt at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, the message is already clear.

Not just Israel, but Turkey, Cyprus and Greece have seized upon the common-sense realisation that in 2011, there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Medicine, food, and even luxury items are readily available, and while there is a range of incomes and wealth, nobody is starving. The inexorable conclusion then can only be that the flotilla and fly-in are purely political provocations.

In a year when the potential for unrest weighs heavily on the minds of the regional leadership, the appetite for such contrived nonsense has proved weak.

When such acts of common sense by Israel’s neighbours dovetail with Jerusalem’s interests, it’s always a most pleasant surprise.