Only Sigmund Freud could probably account for why strains of “Suicide is Painless” (the M*A*S*H theme song – in both the 1970 movie and subsequent TV series) pulsated inside my cranium each time the anti-boycott bill was being rehashed on our airwaves.
Whatever the subconscious trigger, the lyrics (written by director Robert Altman’s 14-year-old son) evolved as they reverberated in my mind’s ear. The refrain “suicide is painless” soon morphed into “boycott is beautiful.”
Resorting to amateur psychoanalysis, I could vaguely work out what led me to regard boycotts as beautiful. I must have subliminally succumbed to all that high-minded leftist palaver about boycotts constituting a legitimate form of free speech. As such, boycotts become a positive expression of human rights.
My own appreciation was thoroughly grounded in historic precedent. The benefits of boycotts are undeniable.
For example, in the 1870s, the Anti-Coolies Association and the Supreme Order of the Caucasians initiated boycotts of Chinese businesses and laborers across America’s West.
Many immigrants sailed back to China. Others fled to San Francisco, home to the largest US Chinatown.
The northern California burgh of Truckee offers instructive insight into how a successful boycott functions. Members of the White Labor Club and the Caucasian League exercised their constitutional right to free speech when they declared “The Chinese Must Go.”
The Truckee Chinese Boycotting Committee adopted the following resolution: “We recognize the Chinese as an unmitigated curse to the Pacific Coast and a direct threat to the bread and butter of the working class.”
It’s sort of reminiscent of the terminology adopted by Israel’s renowned champions of democracy against “settlers.” Do our peaceniks attempt to end all Jewish presence outside the 1949 armistice demarcations, along the lines of what took place in Truckee? Most likely.
The upshot of the democratically declared Truckee boycott was that all its Chinese laborers were fired and Chinese businesses withered when customers stayed away. Every non-Chinese emporium in town refused to sell anything to the Chinese. It was their democratic right, wasn’t it?
All this forward-thinking culminated in America’s 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese entry into the US for 10 years, forced already-resident Chinese to reapply for visas, and permanently denied American citizenship to all Chinese. This boycott-born bounty was finally repealed in 1943.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, much the same sentiment raged against very veteran Jewish communities.
The 1882 International Anti-Jewish Congress in Dresden strove to boycott Jewish merchants and professionals. Freedom of speech, however, didn’t fare as well in Austria, whose authorities banned the slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.” But freedom’s clever defenders soon modified their motto to “Buy from Christians only.”
Poland managed virulent Judeophobia even before it gained independence in 1918. Its endemic anti-Jewish boycotts were always hatched in democracy’s name, many spearheaded by the National Democratic Party – notorious as Endek, its Polish acronym.
In newly independent Poland, the Endeks zealously blamed Jews – a full eighth of the population – for the country’s economic woes. This spilled over to America, where in 1919 Polish-Americans and assorted Slavic sympathizers declared a boycott of all Jewish enterprises. They petitioned the US government, charging Jews with “importing racial conflicts” to the States and “condemning the insincere tactics of the Jewish imperialists.”
These boycotters, upholding their rights as Americans, emulated the old country’s innate penchants. Strangulating elementary Jewish subsistence was Poland’s time-tried recipe for ridding itself of poverty and backwardness.
Polish boycotts received official sanction in 1920, when Endek leader Wladyslaw Grabski took over as prime minister. He made Jewish life miserable via a variety of nasty measures.
Unobtrusive among them was the boycott-enhancing edict obliging all store owners to display oversized signs bearing their surnames over shop windows. This expedited the identification of Jewish establishments, which could then be singled out to facilitate a legitimate democratic boycott.
It’s intrinsically akin to the demand that all goods manufactured over the Green Line be clearly labeled. Blacklists of brands to boycott serve a similar purpose against latter-day “Jewish imperialists.”
For reasons of political correctness, we won’t enter the minefield of Nazi boycotts. Analogies with Hitler’s Germany are the exclusive preserve of the enlightened Left. Suffice it to say that the Third Reich’s prototype inspired escalation elsewhere – including in Poland, where picketers asserted their rights to free speech by harassing Jewish vendors and their non-Jewish customers.
In 1937, Poland’s last prewar premier, Felicjan Slawoj-Skladkowski, quipped in the noblest democratic tradition (so unlike our own Binyamin Netanyahu): “Economic boycott? Please!” Poland’s anti-Jewish boycott was eventually dubbed “the cold pogrom.” Shortly before the Holocaust, multitudes of anyhow mostly poor Jews, with nowhere to go, were bereft of their livelihood.
Anti-Semites habitually recommend “hitting Jews in their pocketbook.” Which is probably why the Arab League has adopted this ploy against the Jewish state, and why the Palestinian Authority last year instituted its own boycott.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had personally tossed “settlement products” into huge bonfires, to the approving whoops of onlookers.
With such venerable role models, how could our own leftist sophisticates resist doing the same? Israeli professors, authors, filmmakers and artistes relish whipping up anti-Israel passions abroad. It’s not purely ideological. Such activity is lucrative. It assures academics a hearty welcome in the most prestigious campuses – if they only vilify Israel vehemently enough. It helps sell books and movies, stage shows and mount exhibitions.
Advantageous for their advocates, boycotts are indeed beautiful.
If our Left insists on the legitimacy of boycotts, we should all cheerfully concur. Were it not for the detailed blacklists peaceniks compile, we might not figure out which pickles and pretzels were produced on Jerusalem’s out-of-bounds outskirts and which fine wines are verboten. But now we can use the boycott database to buy precisely what they seek to ban.
Moreover, the beauty of boycotts doesn’t end here. We can instigate counter-boycotts.
Once the Left has given us the green light to boycott targeted segments of Israeli society, we might, theoretically, boycott Israeli-Arab businesses and workers. That would obviously be the quickest way to delegitimize boycotts.
They will suddenly lose their attractiveness and democratic sheen.
What’s acceptable against some Jews would be decried as rank racism if employed against non-Jews.This is the immutable postulate of asymmetry.
That said, nothing prevents us from inconsiderately turning any adversity into a double-edged sword.
Boycotts cut both ways. Herein reside the potential benefits of miscellaneous prohibitions, the fonts of their latent beauty – or, paraphrasing the words of young Mike Altman’s schoolboy angst:
… Boycott is beautiful
it brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I so feel.
…and you can do the same thing if you will.