Boycott council in new Protocols row

Councillor Jim Bollan

Councillor Jim Bollan

A council at the centre of a row over its boycott of Israel is facing new criticism after it admitted lending a notorious antisemitic book.

West Dunbartonshire Council said it had bought a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in January, after a request from library member Ron Vallance, a Scottish Friends of Israel activist.

The authority has been widely condemned by pro-Israel activists for its boycott and its apparent position of considering on a "book-by-book" basis whether or not to stock newly-released works by Israeli authors.

Stanley Grossman, of Scottish Friends of Israel, said: "Even as councillors debate whether Israeli authors should be banned, blatantly antisemitic publications such as Hitler's Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are freely available or purchased on request at the council's libraries."

West Dunbartonshire defended its lending of the book. A spokesman said: "This book, along with other infamous titles such as Mein Kampf, is available in public libraries within the UK as part of a commitment to provide open access to books that reflect freedom of speech and the broad range of viewpoints held in the public domain. There is no shortage of books in our collection that criticise titles such as The Protocols. A footnote to the catalogue record for this item advises users that the text is widely regarded as fraudulent propaganda."

He said the council did not believe in censorship and would not be removing any books from its libraries' shelves.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, the leading professional body for librarians, defended the council.

Elaine Fulton, director of CILIP in Scotland, said: "If publicly available material has not incurred legal penalties, then it should not be excluded on moral, political, religious, racial or gender grounds, to satisfy the demands of sectional interest."

Meanwhile, one of the councillors behind West Dunbartonshire's boycott said his resolve had been strengthened by attacks from pro-Israel groups. SNP councillor Jonathan McColl claimed he had received death threats from Israel advocates.

The New York-based CiF Watch website is leading a Twitter campaign against the authority and Cllr McColl, claiming the council was "racist" for singling out Israel for boycott action.

In an email to Jewish complainant Nigel Lawrence last week, Cllr McColl said "extremist idiots and nutters" had threatened to kill him.

On his website on Monday, Cllr McColl wrote: "This boycott was in response to, and in support of, international media coverage two years ago, which showed Israeli forces murdering innocent women and children and firing rockets at civilian targets.

"Hamas' use of hospitals and civilians as human shields is utterly despicable, but that does not give the Israeli government the right to kill those unfortunate enough to be used by this terrorist organisation."

In the wake of the row, the council clarified what it called "highly misleading publicity" about the boycott.

It said: "The boycott applied only to purchases made from January 2009 onwards. The boycott has not prevented West Dunbartonshire's library service from purchasing any book which it wished to purchase. Accusations that Israeli books have been removed from the shelves or have been burned are entirely false, and appear to be mischievously motivated".

Last updated: 11:54am, June 3 2011