Scotch the boycott — of scotch.
That was the message last week from Rabbi Charles Simon just two weeks after he suggested that his fellow Conservative rabbis and their men’s clubs consider a counter-boycott against the Scottish municipality of West Dumbartonshire. The action came in response to the municipal council’s decision to bar its public libraries from buying books by Israeli authors.
Rabbi Simon, executive director of the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, said he had also “suggested to our constituency that they write to the three scotch distributors” that have part of their operations in the municipality. Among the three distilleries named were Morrison Bowmore, Loch Lomond and Chivas Brothers.
The Men’s Club’s International Kiddush Club picked up on the rabbi’s suggestion and called for an outright boycott of the companies.
“The companies were besieged with e-mails and phone calls and letters,” Rabbi Simon said, adding that all three insisted that they had nothing to do with council’s action, promised to lobby for a repeal of the boycott and forwarded the protest letters and e-mails to the council.
“This really hit a responsive chord [in the Jewish community],” Rabbi Simon said. “People said it was announced from pulpits” in synagogues of all denominations.
On June 20, Rabbi Simon wrote to the council. Although the council acted in 2009 at the time of the Israeli incursion into Gaza, the rabbi said he just learned of their boycott, and he told the council that he believed their actions “were well intentioned” but misguided.
“There are many people within Israel and without who question some of the actions which took place at that time,” he wrote. “The politics of the Middle East are extremely complex and most of us fail to understand the intricacies that are involved. While we might be critical of specific actions, many of us choose to continue to support the only democracy in the Middle East. Your boycott of Israel ironically impacts people in Israel who may agree with your intentions if not your actions just as a counter-boycott impacts people in Scotland who are supporters of Israel.”
“I request that you revisit your previous decision to boycott Israeli products,” Rabbi Simon added. “Boycotts, as symbolic as they may be, create unnecessary impediments in the peace process and unfortunately lead to unintended harmful results.”
He said several council members replied to his letter.
“One thanked me for understanding” why they acted, he said. “Some weren’t [so friendly]. It’s clear that they were getting jaundiced news about what was going on in Israel, and it is sometimes more biased news than we get here.”
Rabbi Simon said he does not believe that any of the distilleries lost business from the counter-boycott, and he pronounced the whole thing a success.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over,” he said. “It was not about the scotch but the council. We made a big statement. It was bigger than I anticipated. Hopefully the council will now reconsider its naïve if well-intended act.”
Asked why he was calling off the lobbying campaign, Rabbi Simon replied: “Prolonging this won’t make any difference. Maybe there has been enough pressure on the council that it will reconsider. That’s the best we could hope for.”