Controversy again, I’m afraid.
My ears pricked up when the recent controversy between Scarlett Johansson and Oxfam hit the press. Briefly, Ms Johansson was an Ambassador (=high profile supporter) of the charity, but was also featured in a Sodastream advertisement that aired during the Superbowl. It appears that Sodastream have a factory in the West Bank, and so Oxfam asked her to break her link with the company. And she told them to get lost. And I’m pleased I’m not the only person who thinks, good on her.
I have supported Oxfam for years – not vast amounts, but £50 a month plus tax relief for twenty years adds up. Adds up to about £15,000, actually, but that’s all they are going to get from me – Oxfam’s loss is Sheffield Children’s Hospital’s gain. I had been worried for a while at the increasingly political stance of charities (e.g. War on Want demands we stop arming Israel, which may or may not be a good idea but has only the most tangential connection with ending hunger). The words of a South American priest – “when I feed the poor, they call me a saint, when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist” – are rattling around in the background, but it is hard to see how opening a factory in an area adds to poverty. The answer is, of course, that Oxfam supports the boycott of Israeli goods, which seems to me to be a long way from drilling wells, buying donkeys and planting grain. One wonders, in passing, what Oxfam would have thought if the Israeli authorities had stepped in to prevent an international company creating jobs in the West Bank. The incident led me to a little research and I discovered that Oxfam has some decidedly whiffy partners. There’s the man who says Jews are descended from apes and pigs, and then there is the fellow who says the Jews deserved the Holocaust (which makes a difference, I suppose, from saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, but racists have never been that hot on logic). Of course there is a difference between anti-Zionism and anti-semitism, but we can all agree which side of the divide these remarks fall.
When I switched, I got a rather disingenuous e-mail, asking me to be “assured that Oxfam condemns anti-Semitism, and any other form of discriminatory language and practices, and we only fund organisations that share our mission to alleviate poverty and social injustice.” Now, does that mean you have links with people but don’t send them money ? I think it does.
One day I’ll come back to the issue of anti-Zionism. Being anti-Zionist must go beyond condemning the Israeli government for many of its policies towards Palestinians (which I do, along with many Israelis). It surely means that you think the world would be a better place without a Jewish state in the Middle East. And I don’t think it takes very much thought to see that is not true. What assurance would ex-Israeli Jews have of a safe life in an Arab state, given what happened to the substantial Jewish minorities in Iraq, Iran, Egypt (etc etc) ? What assurance, for that matter, do Bedouin Christians ? And if a two-state solution is the solution (which it probably is, even if it is not logically compatible with anti-Zionism – Ms Johansson, who has her head screwed on, is entirely logical when she supports good relations between Israel and Palestine), why didn’t Jordan and Egypt set a Palestinian ‘entity’ up when they had control of Gaza and the West Bank between 1948 and 1967 ? And I simply don’t think Israel is the wickedest place on earth, to be selected for boycotts ahead of China and Sudan and Iran and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and … (fill in for the next fifteen minutes). I’m a card-carrying progressive on pretty much everything, from government tax and spending, capital punishment, anti-racism, gay rights, abortion, the whole deal, but this is an area where I slip away quietly to the corner of the room and wonder whether it’s just me.