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Charlotte Hasse | Ha'aretz | 6 February 2003
An Oxford bookshop which is boycotting Israeli publishers is behaving in a "totalitarian" way equivalent to burning books, says a leading Californian publisher of New Age books.
Jo-Ann Deck, publisher for The Crossing Press in Berkley, California, describes the ban on Israeli publishers recently issued by the Inner Bookshop in Oxford as a "terrible tragedy" that damages the notion of free speech.
But Anthony Cheke, co-owner of the Inner Bookshop, says that despite the barrage of criticism and "spate of hate-mail" he has received since the boycott began, he and his staff have no plans to back down.
The action by the bookshop in the British university city signals that an academic boycott against Israel - initiated last April by two Jewish professors - could be gathering speed.
Previously visits, research projects and the publication of articles by Israeli academics have been blocked and a professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology sacked two Israelis from the editorial boards of two journals after they had refused her request to resign.
"I'm a big proponent of the first amendment [of the United States Constitution] and of free speech," says Deck, whose books are also stocked at the Inner Bookshop, which specializes in mind, body and spirit. "This is the same as burning books to me. There's always the government and there's always the people and the people are not always with the government. Why should the people be silenced?" Deck said to Anglo File in a trans-Atlantic telephone call this week.
The banning of any books is a "totalitarian act," she says, which does not pave "the way to peace." She added that she plans to write to the distributor of Crossing Press books in the UK about the matter and is considering writing directly to the Inner Bookshop to ask its
management to reconsider the boycott.
The boycott was announced in a letter dated December 14, 2002, addressed to Astrolog Publishers in Hod Hasharon, the main supplier of books by Israeli authors to the Oxford bookshop.
Signed individually by all the bookshop's nine staff, it stated: "We have long been deeply disturbed by Israel's policy toward Palestinians in the occupied West Bank - stealing their land, bulldozing their homes and olive groves, shooting innocent children and generally making normal life impossible. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that some of them respond with suicide bombing and other atrocities."
Cheke says that the last comment had been interpreted by some critics as an attempt to justify suicide attacks. "It is an explanation rather than justification," he told Anglo File.
The letter also stated: "Now the Israeli army has even killed a British UN official [referring to the shooting of Ian Hook in the Jenin refugee camp in November 2002], we have decided the time has come to join the academic boycott of Israel and its products [which was initiated by British academics Prof. Hilary Rose and Prof. Steven Rose in April, 2002]. Given the type of books you publish, it may be that your company is not in sympathy with Israeli government policy; if so, you will understand why we are doing this. While we are sorry to have to part
company with a publisher that produces books in our speciality, a boycott only works if there are no exceptions - we hope you will protest to your government that you are losing trade because of their policies."
A clipping from the satirical magazine Private Eye, titled "Letter from Israel" and detailing brutal policies of the Israeli government, was attached to the letter, which concluded: "It is a matter of great sadness to us that of all countries, Israel, with the indelible memory of the Showa [sic], should be treating another people as if they are less than fully human, and practicing 'ethnic cleansing' against them."
Cheke said protests against the boycott had mostly come in the form of emails from Israel, but had also included a note pushed through the bookshop letter box, stating: "End your boycott of Jewish books or face the consequences. Watch your back - we are watching yours!"
Cheke emphasized that the boycott would not affect Jewish writers and the bookshop's Judaism and Kabbalah section would continue to be stocked with books from British and American publishers.
"Our boycott is a strictly political one of the state of Israel under [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon," he said, adding that if the Labor Party had won the elections in Israel last week, the boycott would likely have been lifted. "We recognize that the situation is a tragedy for both sides," he added.
While to date the bookshop has only issued a boycott of Israeli publishers, Cheke says that staff were considering a similar boycott against China because of its occupation of Tibet.
Reactions to the boycott in Israel were quick to label the bookshop's actions as anti-Semitic. Editor-in-chief of Astrolog Publishers, Elisha Ben- Mordechai, described the letter he received from the Inner Bookshop as "shameful." He says he has no intention of responding as he does
"not want to deal with anti-Semites."
He told Anglo File that he and his wife, who run the publishing company, were both born in refugee camps in Europe and said the bookshop staff "were spitting in my face and I cannot call it rain."
He added that the bookshop was working on the assumption that if he received less income, he would telephone Sharon and ask him to leave the territories. "This doesn't work," he said. "When they hurt me, it hurts."
Israeli author Ehud Ben-Ezer, a former Knesset candidate for Meretz whose books were previously stocked by the Oxford bookshop, also homed in on efforts to impose a financial penalty on Israelis. He wrote a letter to the bookshop staff stating: "We understand very well your historical hint about us, Jews 'losing trade.' Yes, we might lose trade, but not integrity and conscience."
Both Ben-Ezer and Amnon Ben-Shmuel - managing director of the Book Publishers Association of Israel who also wrote to the bookshop staff - detailed Palestinian violence against Israelis, emphasized Israel's democratic nature and accused the staff of forming opinions about the conflict based on biased media reports.
Ben-Shmuel's letter, which is four pages in length and includes much historical detail, states: "I would have expected, especially from people whose occupation is books, to study the facts well before taking any anti- Semitic stand that is reminiscent of the boycotting of books by the Nazis and burning them at the stake (maybe that is the next step which you are planning)."
He also suggested the books from Israeli publishers were replaced with those "published by the Palestinian Authority... [where you] will find that the hatred for Jews is already taught at kindergarten level."