Racist newspaper cartoon slurs Port Townsend Co-op initiative to boycott Israeli goods

August 19, 2010

Following the historic decision of the food co-op in Olympia, WA to boycott Israeli goods, a similar effort is underway at the food co-op in Port Townsend, WA, near Seattle. Like all campaigns answering the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel, part of the goal is to generate local awareness of subjects that are politically taboo — Israel’s systematic violations — with full US complicity — of Palestinian human rights, and what citizens everywhere can do to help end them.

The Port Townsend co-op effort has certainly done that, as stories in the Port Townsend Leader and the Pensinsula Daily News show. The Port Townsend Leader also carried opinion pieces — one by Daniel Bugel-Shunra, supporting the Port Townsend boycott initiative, and one by Henry Werch opposing it.

But the print edition of the newspaper carried this disturbing cartoon on the same page as the two opinion pieces. It was sent to me by Dena Bugel-Shunra, a Hebrew translator who lives in Port Townsend and is on the local team that originally proposed the boycott. The cartoon is a nasty effort to portray the proposed boycott — and by implication any other BDS effort — as targeting any and all things “Jewish” and thus implying that BDS and its proponents are anti-Semitic.

Dena Bugel-Shunra, who grew up in Israel, adds:

The insidious thing about this cartoon is that it normalizes the notion that only Arabs (and presumably Jews) care about the situation in Palestine (and Israel). It seems to me that U.S. foreign policy and the effect it has on the world is the business of all of us. The cartoon also makes the nasty equation of ethnic minorities with clothing & food (hijab for Arab Muslims, bagels & lox for Jews) – although not all Muslims are Arab, not all Arabs are Muslim, not all Muslim women wear hijab, and bagels and lox are AMERICAN foods, not Jewish or Israeli ones (they weren’t even available in Israel until the mid-80s).

While many people may indeed associate bagels with the Jewish immigrants who brought them to the United States, they clearly have nothing to do with either the Port Townsend boycott effort, or BDS in general.

Perhaps the cartoon was innocent, perhaps malicious. But it’s precisely because of this sort of ignorance that BDS efforts are needed: to educate the public that the situation in Palestine/Israel is not about “Arab or Muslim vs. Jew” nor even about “Palestinians vs. Israelis.” It is a struggle against a system of oppression and apartheid that privileges Israeli Jews at the expense of Palestinians, violating Palestinians’ most fundamental rights. The premise of the BDS movement is that the key to ending the conflict is for Israel to respect the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and comply with international law. BDS is a tactic, not an end in itself. The goal is to get to justice, human rights, and equality for all.

Indeed, the Palestinian civil society’s BDS call makes clear this is a universalist movement that sees anyone who supports universal human rights as a potential ally. Thus it explicitly invites “conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.” And some courageous Israelis, have already done so, launching Boycott From Within.

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