Belfast Telegraph

Inclusion not exclusion is needed to fix Middle East

Boycotting Israeli goods is a sterile gesture. What we need is a serious debate about peace in the region, says Steven Jaffe

Is boycotting Israel kosher, asks Belfast Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann . To this Jewish reader, who co-chairs the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel (NIFI), it's about as kosher as a bacon sandwich.

Since our launch in March 2009, more than 3,500 people have attended NIFI events and there are more than 500 people on our mailing list. We bring together Jews, Christians and secular people. We believe in serious engagement regarding the Middle East conflict - not negative and sterile boycotts.

Although Eamonn is angry about being branded anti-Semitic, the boycott is highly-discriminatory. What state is called to be boycotted, other than the Jewish state? Which people is to be denied the right of self-determination, other than the Jewish people?

The motives behind the hard-Left's call to shun Israel is anything but kosher. Anti-racism, feminism and human rights are sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

Whereas the wars launched against Israel have failed and terrorism served only to alienate world opinion, the likes of the Socialist Workers Party hail boycotting as a means of isolating the Jewish state in readiness for its destruction.

Boycotters, like Eamonn McCann, think that it is Israel itself which is illegitimate and have little truck for a 'two-state' solution; of an Israel and Palestine living side-by-side.

Never mind the moral bankruptcy which lies behind this boycott. Is the strategy (launched in 2002) actually working?

Which nation has more companies on the NASDAQ than any country in the world (outside North America and China)? Whose hi-tech economy grew by more than 5% last year. Whose trade with the UK in 2011 reached £4bn?

Clue: this country's sixth president had the audacity to be born on Cliftonpark Avenue in Belfast.

Yes, we're talking about Eamonn McCann's "failed Zionist entity". Forget boycotting oranges. Boycotting Israeli goods is a much more serious business than that.

In hospital, it means turning down those pill-shaped micro cameras, swallowed with a glass of water, and insisting instead on investigative surgery; in the office, it requires shunning voicemail and instant messaging; and at home, dissecting your mobile phone, satellite TV and computer, searching out those darned Israeli components.

Even googling 'Israel boycott' is self-defeating. Google has invested heavily in Israel's incredibly high-powered research and development capacity since 2006.

And the cultural boycott might extend to binning one's Bob Dylan collection on the grounds one of the most Zionist songs ever penned was by Bob Zimmerman. So how far is Eamonn - by all accounts a tremendous Dylan fan - prepared to take this cultural boycott?

McCann points with excitement to a recent decision by the Co-op to curtail approximately £350,000 worth of business because of Israeli settlements. What he forgot to mention is that the Co-op declared it will continue to trade with more than 20 Israeli companies and is seeking ways to boost its trade with them.

The Co-op fails to understand what boycotting Israel is about.

In February, the guru of Leftist anti-Israel sentiment, Norman Finkelstein, visited Belfast and was hailed as a hero by the Palestine society at Queen's (a university where, last year, an Israeli speaker was shouted down and forced to flee a lecture hall for his safety).

The week following his visit, Finkelstein turned on the boycotters, describing the Boycott Israel movement as a cult, which hugely exaggerated its successes and had failed to engage the mainstream. Would Norman be one of Eamonn's Jewish anti-Zionist friends?

Let's get down to serious discussion as to how the people of Northern Ireland can make a contribution towards peace and reconciliation in the Middle East.

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