Last week Israelis were surprised to hear of the Europeans announced boycott of Israelis produces and formal institutions that are not within the 1949 borders. Although Europe has long criticized Israel for its presence in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Jerusalem such a formal step with such serious consequences is a significant step up in European involvement in the Middle East. This formal boycott is not only on products produced beyond the 1967 borders but include also more importantly, cultural and academic exchanges with institutions that are in this debated area. What this would mean, for example, is that doctoral students in Hebrew University, which has a campus on Mt. Scopus-beyond the 1967 borders, are now persona non grate in European universities and will have a very hard time finding research and doctoral fellowships in European institutions. It also means that European students who want to attend these Israeli institutions will not receive any European funding and recognition for doing so. However, the damage done by this boycott is not necessarily the exact damage that it will inflict; similar to terror attacks where the actual damage is not the final objective but it is the fear and hysteria spread that are what count-which is exactly what the Europeans would like to accomplish. Columnists have been discussing the hysteria with which Israel responded and were wondering why it is that they are responding in a way that may not be proportionate to the outlined boycott. This however is nothing to wonder about. Every terrorized group responds with hysteria which is exactly what the Europeans would like. There is however another reason for Israelis to respond in this way. While New York Times Op-eds were enthralled with this boycott seeming it as a move that would push Israel back into the peace process there is a perspective that exists in the consciousness of Israelis that for some reason cannot be found in the European consciousness. Already in 1921, the German student union, the Deutschen Hochschulring, had barred Jews from being members. This sanction, like the European boycott of products and institutions that are not in the pre-1967 borders, was not necessarily of urgent consequences. However, by 1933 more than ten years later the Third Reich had already a full fledged boycott of all Jewish businesses in Germany and the rest is history. Had I lived in 1921 and heard about the Deutschen Hochschulring’s boycott of Jewish students would I or any other person I know be appaled by this? Probably not. But I live in 2013 and myself and Israelis sadly know too much about such boycotts and have memories that the Europians may be happy to forget but we will not. We know that whether the reason is good or not-a boycott does not end with a boycott. And whether we agree or not about the Israeli existence in the post 1967 borders does not change how we feel about this boycott. While a cold and indifferent Europe expresses a cruel surprise at the strong Israeli reaction to this boycott we as Jews are not suppressed. Israelis are smelling something that is all too familiar coming from a place that is unfortunately also all too familiar too us.
Published in The Canadian Jewish News Aug. 2013