Heinrich Heine said words to the effect that when books start to be burned pretty soon it will be followed by people being burned. He was proved correct when the Nazis came to power and bonfires of books by Jews and other undesirables were followed by bonfires of Jews and other undesirables.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UK has warned, “A place that boycotts books is not far from a place that burns them.” In parts of Scotland Burns Night may take on a literal meaning.
Boycotting books seems much tamer than burning them, so much more genteel and politically correct, but it is a significant step along the road of intolerance. West Dunbartonshire Council has decreed that in future it will not purchase books by Israeli authors for its libraries. It does not matter what ideas are contained in the books, their literary value or their moral stance, it is the bare fact of their origin which is enough for them to be banned.
Although there is doubt as to the legality of the move it is reported that ten other councils in Scotland are considering following suit.
West Dunbartonshire Council spokesman Malcolm Bennie argues that the boycott doesn’t apply to Israeli books printed outside Israel, just those printed in Israel. So that’s alright then.
No it’s not alright, Malcolm. Your statement is mealy mouthed blethering, rationalising and attempting to cover up blatant bigotry.
In the meantime what have we heard from Britain’s literary lions, those ever vigilant champions of freedom of expression? Precious little.
Ian McEwan, for example, was recently awarded the Jerusalem Prize, and on the way became an advert for Israel’s political tolerance when in his acceptance speech he criticised its policies. Try doing the equivalent in Gaza Ian. Meanwhile if he is prepared to exploit freedom of expression to advance his personal political viewpoint perhaps it would be a good idea if he stood up against political censorship at home.
What about Irvine Welsh, whose drug-soaked rantings have, for some obscure reason, been translated into Hebrew? Surely he is favourably positioned to demand a recantation by West Dunbartonshire who continue to stock his verbal incontinence.
Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress called the banning of Israeli books and the marking of Israeli products in parts of Scotland “eerily reminiscent of darker times and perhaps there is a level of hatred that connects them.”
We are told that this is not anti-Semitic prejudice. However, West Dunbartonshire is deliberately targeting the only democracy in the Middle East whilst turning a blind eye to egregious human rights violations and political corruption in neighbouring nations as well as in Palestinian controlled Gaza and the West Bank. This smacks of anti-Semitism not only in effect but in intent.
Thanks to their council the good people of West Dunbartonshire now find themselves allied with such beacons of enlightenment as Saudi Arabia and Iran who also boycott Israeli books.
Thanks to the West Dunbartonshire Council the people of Scotland have been shamed.