Thursday, March 19, 2009

on Goldsmiths and the West Bank

On one of Bob's posts, ChrisCafeCrema shows up in the comments. Chris owns a coffee shop in England, which boasts a sign outside saying, "We do not use any Israeli products. We are not anti-semitic but anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else." Though the sign says Jews are welcome, in fact, many Jews very excluded.

One thing Chris says is:
I've spent time in the West Bank and seen it first-hand. Anybody else posting comments on this blog been there?
I've come across this sort of thing before, and I find it pretty obnoxious and condescending.

Of course, David Hirsh, one of the leading anti-boycotters in Britain and a commenter in the thread, has been there. He notes that parenthetically, along with the fact that he's been campaigning for an end to the Occupation for decades. But that's parenthetical. The thrust of his comment is that he feels excluded by the sign even though he is a British Jew:
If you want to boycott Israeli goods then you will have to boycott me too.

And when my colleagues suggest lunch there or my students suggest coffee there, I guess I'll just mumble, or say I'm busy, and I won't be able to go with them because I am no longer part of the Cafe Crema community. I probably won't tell them the real reason for fear that they'll think I'm a paranoid Jew.

And when I walk past Cafe Crema twice a day, every day, on my way to and from work, I will be made to remember, even if I have forgotten, that there is the cafe where "Jews are welcome" and I will feel upset, excluded, and angry.

Do you understand, Chris? Every day when I walk past Cafe Crema I will see the cafe from which I feel excluded because I'm Jewish.
Me, I haven't been to the West Bank. Or Israel for that matter. Or Goldsmiths. Perhaps it's because I'm not as privileged as Chris. I've only recently had money for world travel, and I've certainly never had the money to open a coffee shop. But while Chris wants to talk about the West Bank, his action is in Goldsmiths, which is properly what David wants to talk about.

There are a lot of different perspectives and different ways of gaining knowledge about the conflict. Certainly visitng the West Bank would be valuable in talking about such things, but it's not the only valuable source of knowledge. Chris privileges his experience and denigrates the experiences of Jews who are hurt by his sign. So Chris, you've been to the West Bank, but have you ever been to your own damn shop? You're aware of what's going on half a world away, but it seems you've no idea what's going on around you. Have you ever been a Jew who's felt excluded by signs just like yours? No, I didn't think so.

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