The nasty things in Green leader's PC

By Martin Bright, June 30, 2011

The Green Party could be "more sensitive" in its use of the language of boycott in its policy towards Israel, according to its leader, Caroline Lucas.

The MP for Brighton Pavilion, the first Green to sit in the House of Commons, said she had come to this conclusion after discussions with a rabbi in her constituency, Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue.

"We were talking about the party's policy supporting the boycott and disinvestment position, which I do support, but the way we talk about it could be more sensitive. She was explaining to me just how resonant and evocative any discussion about boycotts is, because it takes you right back to what happened in the past." She said there was an ongoing debate about Israel within the party but that following her discussions with Rabbi Sarah, there was work still to be done. "I recognise the language can be an issue."

The Green Party is the only major party to support the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement. Caroline Lucas has herself been prominent in the campaiugn against Israeli policy on Gaza. Asked where she drew the line, Ms Lucas said she recognised that a boycott of goods from the settlements was easier for consumers to sustain than an outright ban.

Did her office computers contain Israeli computer chips, I wondered? "You're right, I don't know what's inside my computer, lots of nasty things I'm sure."

So perhaps, given recent events in the Middle East, would there soon be a Green Party boycott of Syria, or Iran?

"I think the difference with Israel is that so many other tools have been tried for so many decades with such extraordinary lack of success, that people have been driven to use these other tools."

Did this mean that Israel was exceptionally bad? "I think the Naqba, the occupation, that's been going on for decades. You could say that Syrian oppression has been going on for decades but in terms of the wider awareness of what's going on there and the particular violence we've seen over the last few months, it is a much more recent phenomenon."

So what about the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the Syrian cities of Hama and Homs in 1982, where between 10-40,000 people were killed? It was hardly Israel's fault if people did not know about Syria's long history of violence against its own people.

"That's a fair point," she conceded.

Ultimately, Ms Lucas explained, the Green Party's support of the boycott should be seen in the tradition of activism rooted in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. "For many people I think that's what they're looking at and thinking if we did it on South Africa…", her voice trails off. "And there are many parallels that are drawn."

At the same time, she recognised that many in the Jewish community did not share her heroic vision of the boycott. "Through my discussions with Rabbi Sarah I grew to understand a bit better how it was perceived by some in the Jewish community because for them it's part of a different context."

Last updated: 1:37pm, June 30 2011