Open Zion

03.20.12

A Nice Jewish Boy-cott

Jeffrey Goldberg disapproves of my dietary choices. In a string of tweets criticizing Peter Beinart’s call for a selective boycott of the occupation, Goldberg says that although he’s been “arguing against settlements forever”, he still thinks “boycotting other Jews is a painful, unnatural act.” In a blog post, Goldberg explained that he finds “economic warfare targeting Jews so distasteful, for obvious historical reasons,” presumably alluding to the terrible history of anti-Semitic boycotts

Trouble is, I’m practicing my own economic warfare against Jews—or rather, certain Jews. As an observant Jew with a bleeding heart, I try to eat out at only those restaurants with a Tav HaYosher, a seal of approval granted by the Orthodox social justice group Uri L’Tzedek to New York based kosher restaurants that observe labor laws. 

In other words, when they don’t meet those standards, I boycott. (Sometimes, as in the case of the humus masabacha at a certain SoHo eatery, I slip up.)

The Tav HaYosher is based on a (wildly successful) Israeli program called the Tav Chevrati, which “encourages Israeli consumers to selectively patronize” businesses that respect labor rights and are disability accessible. But my use of the Tav HaYosher’s even worse: it only applies to kosher restaurants, singling out Jewish businesses for a “painful, unnatural” boycott. 

Will Goldberg condemn the Tav Chevrati? I don’t think so, and I don’t think the “No Boycotts Targeting Jews” rule can be sustained. Goldberg elides the difference between targeting Jews as Jews (a la the Limerick Boycott), and targeting certain Jews because those Jews have done something wrong, whether it’s paying their workers under minimum wage or benefiting from an undemocratic occupation. The first is anti-Semitic and unconscionable; the latter is not only unavoidable (will Goldberg buy his next pair of tefillin from Neturei Karta? I hope not), but also, as Yossi Sarid pointed out in a critique of the Knesset’s anti-boycott law, the bread and butter of Jewish intramural politics:

[What] about historical boycotts of Hasidim against Mitnagdim, and mainly Mitnagdim against Hasidim? And about the Orthodox world that… has been excommunicating the Reform movement for over 200 years.

The law is not only anti-Jewish, it is anti-Zionist. The path of the nascent state was paved with boycotts: Boazim (Jewish farmers) boycotting halutzim (pioneers) and vice versa; protectors of Israeli produce boycotting Arab labor; Ze'ev Jabotinsky boycotting the Zionist Histadrut labor federation, and David Ben-Gurion paying him back.

And eventually, after independence, Ben-Gurion removed Herut (the forerunner of Likud) and Maki (the Israel Communist Party) from the Israeli community and buried them outside the fence. They were great men, the founding fathers, with great boycotts and great dreams; their successors are grasshoppers, for whom even a small boycott is too big.

There are lots of fair reasons to oppose a settlement boycott. But to cut from our playbook the best tactic Jews have for censuring other Jews, a tactic that dates at least to the Talmud and has as its targets the likes of Leon Trotsky, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Baruch Spinoza—well, that’s what I call painful and unnatural.