Boycotting Whisky?

June 15, 2011 by

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Before we begin, I need to divulge my divested interests. I love Scotch. I only drink Whiskey on Shabbat; and on Shabbat I only drink Whiskey.

The whiskey table at shul is as important to me as much of the service that whets your appetite for it. And my wife knows that she can invite anyone, and we can accept any invitation, as long as whiskey is on the guest list. I should also add that I am a snob, I won’t drink blends, Bourbon is a poor replacement, only single malt will do. Luckily I am in good company as it seems that Jews around the world, who hold down steady successful careers during the week, also think that one day a week it’s a good idea to start drinking spirits at 11 in the morning.

Oh, and I don’t support blanket boycotts. Not just against Israel, against anyone.

I am therefore in a quandary regarding the recent developments in Scottish local councils who have decided to blanket boycott Israel. There have been a series of vicious blanket boycotts against Israel and many of them emanating in my birthplace: the British Isles.

I do support the idea of specific and focused boycotts. It is a non-violent way to make your voice and displeasure heard. A company which pollutes the environment mercilessly; a hi-tech manufacturer which abuses its third world employees; even firms owned by groups which have a problematic agenda – these are all things I have considered boycotting. However boycotting a whole country seems a generalization too far.

While many Iranian industries deserve to be boycotted, I would never support an academic boycott, because if there is hope for reform it will probably come from that arena. Similarly a cultural boycott cuts off the air-supply to the leaders in society which push the accepted norms held by the politicians and the population. Boycotting Iranian films would be tragic. Ironically these are the two fields which have been most targeted by British boycotts of Israel. If you want to show your displeasure at Israeli policy you should probably buy more Israeli novels and invest in higher education institutions, because they are the constant and most powerful force of opposition and forward thinking.

I am therefore highly dismayed by the boycott of Israeli-published books proposed by the West Dunbartonshire Council in Scotland. However, I am also aware that the second to last smallest county in Scotland, which holds a population of less than 100,000 people is also pretty insignificant to global politics. In fact I think the probability of writing West Dunbartonshire twice in one paragraph is about as likely as their boycott influencing Israeli policy. I have in fact been to this region and it is very beautiful and quiet. Oh, and they have some great whiskeys.

I am left feeling that there needs to be a well-thought out response to this troubling local decision in Scotland. However the decision of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs to boycott the Whiskeys from the region is not that. If we have a criticism of blanket boycotts; then let’s not demonstrate that by starting our own boycott of an unrelated industry.

If we feel that the decision making in the council was immature, then let us rise above it. Instead of sending threatening letters to the whiskey distilleries, let’s put together a guide to Israeli literature and academia which highlights the diversity and multi-vocality of our texts. Let’s send it to every household in West Dunbartonshire, accept they have the right to disagree with policies, but ask them to rethink the way they express that. And let’s have one of those fine whiskeys that they produce.

Make mine a treble.


Anton Goodman is the Israel Engager Shaliach to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

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