Political judgement can be a slippery, awkward-to-handle eel of a thing. In the past twenty-four hours I’ve come across two examples that’ve set me thinking.
The first involves cosmetics. It seems Garnier has air-dropped lots of their products so that Israeli women soldiers can look good as well as fight effectively in the offensive on Gaza. There’s been a call by many, including George Galloway, for people to boycott Garnier and send back to them any Garnier products they may have and tell them what they think of them. I’ve struggled with this one but in the end I’ve decided it comes under the Myles na gCopaleen heading. Yes, the boycott of Israeli goods, if it helps pressure Israel into ending the butchering of men, women and children, is a good thing. But I don’t know if Garnier is the most effective place to start. There must be surely other products used by Israeli troops that are more central to the slaughter. Like guns. Or tanks. Or bombs. When you mention this possibility to people who are committed to boycotting Garnier goods, they get quite tetchy. The implication is, if you don’t sent back your Garnier stuff, you’re pro-Israeli. Except that I haven’t any Garnier products myself to send back.
The other is over a full-page ad that appeared in The Guardian yesterday. It was totally pro-Israel and accused Hamas of offering children in sacrifice, a practice the Jewish people abandoned thousands of years ago. They were doing this, the full-page ad claimed, by placing their rockets near schools and nurseries and the like, so when Israel shelled those places, children were inevitably killed.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that this is a classic case of blaming the victim. “You made me kill your children – shame on you!” That’s effectively the argument – one advanced years ago by former Israel prim minister Golda Meir. It’s so obviously a distortion of the truth, I would think there’s a fair chance that this would become an arrest-Gerry-Adams moment: that people would see the deep hypocrisy involved and redouble their efforts against Israel’s brutal policy.
But the slippery bit comes with the belief many hold, that The Guardian should never have printed such lies. Mmm. I disagree (I think). The Guardian like most newspapers lives by advertising income. If it starts accepting some ads which chime with their general outlook and rejecting others, not only will they lose money but they could be accused of censorship. Something important is involved here. When you disagree energetically with someone, it doesn’t mean it’s OK to treat them differently. We had a local example with that anti-internment march in Belfast. Some people condemned the march on the grounds that dissident republicans, opposed to the Good Friday Agreement and all its out-workings, were involved. Again, I disagree. In fact, the more you disagree/dislike someone, the more important it is that you make sure those people have the same legal rights as you and your nice Auntie Maggie. Once we start turning our back on people because we disagree with them, we’re landed back in the bad old days of Section 31 and the British broadcasting ban.
As I say, it’s slippery but it can and should be grasped.