Scottish whisky hit by boycott threat

By Jessica Elgot, June 16, 2011
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So all you have is tea on the rocks, coffee with dry ginger or a straight shot of soda?

So all you have is tea on the rocks, coffee with dry ginger or a straight shot of soda?

It's a staple kiddush tipple, but Scotch whisky could be off the menu on Shabbat, after Jewish groups announced a boycott of Scottish distilleries in protest against West Dunbartonshire Council's boycott of Israel.

The Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs - which encompasses 250 "kiddush clubs" across the US - asked its 6,000 members to consider a boycott of all Scotch from distillers which have business in West Dunbartonshire.

Distilleries named in the boycott are Morrison Bowmore, Loch Lomond and Chivas Brothers. Some of the brands include Chivas, Glenlivet and Ballantine's. Morrison Bowmore has brands certified by the London Beth Din, including McClelland's and Auchentoshan.

Kirsteen Beeston, of Morrison Bowmore, said the company had already written to West Dunbartonshire Council "to ensure it is made fully aware of the potential implications of its policy".

She said the company did not take any political stance, and added: "This policy has been made independently from us and without our consultation. Auchentoshan has invested significantly in working with the Jewish community and the London Beth Din."

New York-based Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the FJMC, said: "We were overwhelmed by the response. I've had dozens of phonecalls and hundreds of emails, from Alaska to New Zealand. We had a very positive response from the distillers. Pernaud-Ricard, which makes Chivas, said it would be making representations to the council."

In London, St John's Wood Kiddush Club plans to put a label on its bottle of Chivas Regal - "not to be drunk until the boycott is lifted." Kiddush Club organiser Sidney Symons said: "The bottom line is that if you boycott us, we'll boycott you."

The boycott was first proposed by UK pro-Israel blogger Jameel Rashid on his website "The Muqata."

He wrote: "The West Dunbartonshire Council of Wise Men couldn't care less what a pro-Israel, pro-liberty, person might think, but they might listen to voices of their constituents; specifically the Scotch whisky distilleries in their council's region."

Rabbi Rashi Simon, of the Kesher learning community in London, has led kosher whisky tours in Scotland, but now appears to back a boycott of Scotch. He said: "Boycotts are usually ineffective but they do make a point. We should respond in kind. These kiddush clubs in the US have become very popular, and it may hit the distilleries where it hurts. The distilleries have clout in Scotland, which is very proud of its whisky. They will not want its products brought into disrepute."

But a West Dunbartonshire Council spokeswoman said: "The recent coverage has been utterly sensationalist. These articles have incited complaints, many of them unsavoury, from people who don't know the facts. The latest of these is the threat of a counter-boycott.

"We appreciate the concerns of local business and recognise their importance to the economy of West Dunbartonshire."

But she added: "The council unreservedly stands behind its decision on the boycott."

Stanley Grossman, co-founder of the Scottish Friends of Israel, said: "I certainly won't be boycotting whisky. This has nothing to do with the distillers, and it defeats our case, which is in part arguing the stupidity of boycotts in general."

    Last updated: 12:16pm, June 16 2011