What a daft idea for a boycott

For us warriors for the cause of truth, blanket bans are to be resisted, not pursued

By David Aaronovitch, July 2, 2009

There’s a letter for me waiting at The Times today. “Dave, how’s this for a conspiracy?” scrawls an H. Mullin on the blank side of a piece of paper. On the other side is a photocopy of page 5 of some indeterminate publication featuring an article by a Harry Mullin. The piece concerns the supposed landing in Scotland “a few years ago” of submarine-borne Israeli agents bent on the extermination of Mr Mullin’s pals in the British Anti Zionist Organisation, and on the execution of PLO representative in London Said Hammami.

Mr Mullin who, investigation shows, has made the transition from far left to far right with only his anti-Jewishness and implacability intact, fails to mention that Hammami is reliably believed to have been murdered by the renegade Abu Nidal, who lived out his declining years under the protection of Saddam Hussein.

Mullin is a Scot. Scots are no more immune than the rest of us to the seductions of the conspiracy theory and — it hardly needs to be added — more such theories than might be justified by their presence in the world population, seem to concern the Jews, in one of their demonic incarnations, from subverters of Christian Europe to Zionist world-dominators.

I do my bit. Both sides of the border. I was in beautiful Melrose the week before last to talk about my book on conspiracy theories, and will visit the Wigtown book festival in early October.

But the biggest book do in Scotland is Edinburgh in August, and I am looking forward to taking the argument there. Except, yesterday, someone emailed me to say that I shouldn’t. Indeed, they said I should take the lead in NOT being in Edinburgh.

My correspondent’s logic, copied in a round-robin to other people, is that the decision of the Edinburgh International Film Festival to return a £300 sponsorship cheque to the Israeli government (following protests by the cinematographically talented but politically ridiculous director Ken Loach) was so egregious that it demanded a “robust, muscular” response.

This muscular response, as far as I can tell, consists of people like me announcing that we are boycotting the entire city of Edinburgh till, at some future point, we decide that it has cleansed itself of the Film Festival taint.

Argument on this point is not welcomed. To someone else who objected, correctly, that the Film and Book festivals were two entirely separate events, my choleric adviser compared her to German Jewry in the 1930s, adding, “it seems people like you never learn”. It’s in Edinburgh, it has the word “festival”, so we should smack it in its possibly Jew-hating kisser.

Readers can decide for themselves whether the impact of my not being at Edinburgh is greater than my being there.

And, given that I would have been talking about conspiracy theories, they may also speculate about how such a planned withdrawal might be depicted.

There are probably a couple of hundred people who have already bought tickets to the event, and there is also a planned Human Rights event at which I am going to be involved.

Would letting people down in this way, and not being there to make an argument, really help in the various battles that need to be fought? Of course not. I would be thought of as a touchy, accusing, careless tribalist, not as a brave warrior for the cause of truth.

In this sense, the whole boycott shtick was slightly reminiscent of last week’s piece by Melanie Phillips on Obama. In its rhetoric and desperation, it spoke of an anger and fear which has become absolutely inept at distinguishing between friends (which Obama so obviously is), potential friends (which the Edinburgh Book Festival almost certainly is) and real enemies. In other words, it is classically sectarian. Leave Edinburgh to the Harry Mullins? Not bloody likely!

Last updated: 12:10pm, July 2 2009