Friday, 3 June 2011
Council taxing our patience
By Geoffrey Alderman, June 3, 2011
The silly season has certainly come early this year.
Take Scotland. And, in particular, West Dunbartonshire. The elected councillors of West Dunbartonshire have reiterated their determination to enforce a policy (apparently first adopted in 2009) banning "the purchase of any goods… which were made or grown in Israel."
So that none of us should be left in any doubt, the council further resolved that "officers should… ensure that we procure no new goods or produce from Israel until this boycott is formally lifted."
Well, that's pretty definite, isn't it? "No new goods or produce from Israel" must mean exactly what it says. It must include books, mustn't it? I mean, if a book is "made" or "produced" in Israel, it must qualify for the description, "produce from Israel".
So I would fully expect no council library or other council-funded establishment in West Dunbartonshire to henceforth "procure" any book (or for that matter periodical or pamphlet) "produced" in Israel. This bold policy couldn't be bolder, could it? Or clearer?
The SNP-led West Dunbarton council certainly thought so. But as I and others began to quiz the council about this - to put to it certain questions that might have slipped its attention hitherto - the waters that must once have seemed so clear became muddier and muddier.
What does "produce" actually mean? In the case of a book, does it mean written and published in Israel, or only written in Israel, or just published in Israel?
I mean, after all, if a book is written in Israel - by, say, an Israeli Jew - but is physically produced in, say, New York, does such a tome qualify as Israeli "produce" that must not be procured "going forward" (to coin a phrase)? And what about print-on-demand volumes, copies of which are produced remotely (through the miracle of the digital internet) as they are ordered?
To cynically evade the West Dunbarton boycott, an Israeli Jew might cunningly arrange to have his or her book printed "on demand" in, for example, West Dunbarton. Surely the West Dunbarton council would immediately see through such unprofessional conduct, and ban it anyway?
Talking of Israeli Jews, dare I ask whether the West Dunbarton boycott is limited to Israeli Jews, or does it extend to all Israelis? I mean, if an Israeli anti-Zionist Arab wrote a pamphlet (and printed, produced, published and promoted such pamphlet in Israel) extolling the virtues of boycotts in general and the West Dunbarton boycott in particular, would that, too, fall foul of the policy, as it surely ought to if the policy is to have any serious meaning?
As searching questions such as these began to arise, and to be addressed to the councillors and council officers of West Dunbarton, some startling revelations surfaced. An elected councilor rushed to reassure the perplexed that "we are defining the word 'made' to literally mean built, produced or in the case of books 'printed'." And a council official helpfully explained that "the vast majority of mainstream books by Israeli authors are published in the UK and so are not affected by this boycott. This boycott would only ever apply to books printed in Israel and, in the two-and-a-half years the boycott has been in place there has never been a case when the library service has been unable to purchase a book it wished to."
Which helpful explanation - that the West Dunbarton boycott has little if anything to do with practicalities but everything to do with posturing - brings us to the heart of the matter.
West Dunbarton council is controlled by an unholy alliance of nationalists and socialists. No reader of this column needs to be reminded that the marriage of socialism to nationalism is all too often - certainly as far as Jews are concerned - a fatal attraction.
Just over a year ago, the JC's political editor, Martin Bright, reporting on rising anti-Jewish prejudice in Scotland coupled with the alarming shrinkage of Scotland's Jewish population (now just about 10,000), announced that the Scottish government had committed itself to investigating these matters.
I have heard nothing further about this, nor from the mouth of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have I heard so much as one word of criticism of the elected bigots of West
Mr Salmond has, however, just announced tough new penalties to tackle displays of bigotry on Scotland's football terraces. Perhaps he might be persuaded to extend these sanctions to Scotland's council chambers.