Café Crema: “We’re not anti-semitic but…”

"Jews are as welcome here as anyone else."

"Jews are as welcome here as anyone else."

Bob From Brockley writes:

I went for lunch at the cafe I often frequent, Cafe Crema in New Cross, and found the blackboard no longer says “Please boycott Israeli goods. Thank you.” It now says “We do not use any Israeli products. We are not anti-semitic but anti-fascist. Jews are as welcome here as anyone else.” So now, in my world, Israel is not just bad, it’s bad and fascist.

The owner of Café Crema writes:

Cafe Crema is my cafe. In response to a couple of other postings: yes; Israel is fascist in terms of its treatment of the Palestinians. It is an occupying force which does not carry out its responsibilities under the Geneva Convention. I’ve spent time in the West Bank and seen it first-hand. Anybody else posting comments on this blog been there? Added to this, we all know that they keep a million and a half Palestinians in a prison-camp called Gaza and proceed to exterminate them at will (in the name of self-defense; the Germans also had to defend themselves against the French Resistance, and the Apartheid regime of South Africa against the ANC). We do not currently promote boycotts of other rightwing/militaristic regimes because, in most cases (a) you do not generally see their goods in the shops and (b)they do not have such a history of support from the British establishment. When the South Africa boycott was underway in the 1980s, did anyone complain that there were lots of other nasty regimes in the world that we should have been targeting?

David Hirsh writes:

Chris says, “I’m not antisemitic but…”

“Jews are as welcome here as anyone else…” [But…]

I teach at Goldsmiths and I go to Cafe Crema every now and then. Perhaps you’d recognize me.

I liked the atmosphere. I went there sometimes with students and sometimes with colleagues and sometimes alone.

I liked the coffee too.

I felt comfortable there.

But now I don’t feel as though I’m welcome there anymore, in spite of the sign which says that Jews are welcome. Or perhaps because of that sign.

I’m not Israeli, I hold a British passport. Why? Because my grandparents on my father’s side escaped from Eastern Europe to Britain (before the 1905 immigration Act tried to construct a British boycott of European Jews); and my mother escaped from Germany to Britain in 1938.

Lots of members of those 2 families never got out of Europe. Some who did went to Chile, some went to Israel, some went to the US.

What is my point? My point is that I am British and not Israeli only for contingent reasons. I am British and not Israeli or Chilean or American by chance.

My cousins, who are Israeli, are Israeli by chance. Because that is where they found refuge when they were defined, in Europe, as shit, as cockroaches, and hunted down.

And your distinction between boycotting Israeli goods and Israeli people is a cowardly one.

If an Israeli grows tomatoes, you won’t buy her tomatoes for use in your Cafe. But if she turns up here wanting to spend her “fascist” shekels in your cafe, shekels which she earned by selling her tomatoes, then you will let her in.

You will exclude her tomatoes. But you would be too shy to exclude her. Why? Because you would feel that an exclusion of Israeli Jews would be antisemitic.

If you want to boycott Israeli goods then you will have to boycott me too.

And when my colleagues suggest lunch there or my students suggest coffee there, I guess I’ll just mumble, or say I’m busy, and I won’t be able to go with them because I am no longer part of the Cafe Crema community. I probably won’t tell them the real reason for fear that they’ll think I’m a paranoid Jew.

And when I walk past Cafe Crema twice a day, every day, on my way to and from work, I will be made to remember, even if I have forgotten, that there is the cafe where “Jews are welcome” and I will feel upset, excluded, and angry.

Do you understand, Chris? Every day when I walk past Cafe Crema I will see the cafe from which I feel excluded because I’m Jewish.

(By the way, Yes, I have spent time in the West Bank – I have been arguing and campaigning for an independent Palestinian state and for an end to the occupation for decades – but this has nothing to do with a campaign to exclude Israelis and/or their products from SE14)

UPDATE: on March 20th – Chris replied in more depth on Bob From Brockley:

Fair enough, I can now see that it was a mistake to write ‘Jews are as welcome here as anyone else’ in that it has been taken, by many people, in exactly the opposite way that it was intended (but perhaps I should have foreseen that – I apologise). Obviously, whilst writing anything about boycotting Israel (I’ll come to that in a bit) I wanted to also state what is obvious to me: that that doesn’t mean we’re anti-Semitic. I only felt that needed stating because certain people (such as Israeli politicians and pro-Israeli journalists) deliberately try to muddy the water by conflating anti-Israeli sentiment with anti-Semitism. I don’t care (and obviously generally don’t know) what community/religion/race/diaspora our customers come from – however in answer to the comment about taking fascist shekels, we would never knowingly serve a member of the BNP – and, in terms of individual Israelis, I don’t blame anyone for the misdeeds of their government, in the same way that I would hope that no one would hold me responsible for the misdeeds of British governments, past and present.

But we will continue to boycott Israel, and we certainly won’t hide the fact. All the time that we’ve been open, there have been stickers on the walls calling for a boycott. To me, it’s as legitimate as boycotting South Africa was in the 1980s [By the way, we don’t use Columbian coffee beans, we use Fairtrade Brazilian beans]. It doesn’t mean that I am a supporter of Hamas. It just means that I am more than a little frustrated with seeing absolutely no progress in favour of the Palestinian people, despite decades of handwringing by Western governments (and by progressive/leftwing Israelis). The walls, roadblocks, checkpoints and settlements continue to go up; the mass-killings, collective punishments, arbritrary arrests and incarcerations carry on, as the ineffectual UN resolutions continue to be passed.

I don’t see Hamas as being comparable to the WWII French Resistance, but I do see the Intifada in general as being so. It’s a popular uprising against a hated, and militarily far superior, occupying force. You cannot cite Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks as being anywhere near the same league as what has been meted out by Israel; they don’t amount to 1 per cent of the total carnage and misery. Israel needs to think about why so much of the world is against it, in the same way that the USA has started to do in recent years (we boycotted them, too – and we had a notice up about it, but no complaints or counter-boycotts, as far as I’m aware – while Bush was in power; looks like it worked).

I am well aware of the Holocaust (my wife’s stepfather was in a concentration camp as a child) and the unjust treatment and displacement of Jews in general, in much of the world, for centuries. But these facts do not give Israel a licence to kill and oppress, or to steal land, anymore than the legacy of British colonialism gives Robert Mugabe excuses for his behaviour, despite what he might say.

And, Contentious Centrist, I’d like you to tell me exactly what my ‘ill-concealed wishes’ are, and why on earth I would feel ‘anguish …as a result of so many Jews feeling welcome in [my] cafe.’ The Jewish person who works at Café Crema certainly appears to feel welcome, and this doesn’t cause me much anguish. And this is not ‘gestural politics’. This is absolutely sincere.

Once again, to anyone I’ve offended, or made feel unwelcome, I apologise. However, the boycott remains. I’m genuinely sorry if this means we’ll lose certain customers; that’s obviously not our intention.

What do antisemites write on the windows of Jewish shops?

From Bob From Brockleyc. 1940: "Palestine Calls.  Jews are not tolerated in Norway"

c. 1940: "Palestine Calls. Jews are not tolerated in Norway"

“Seven Jewish Children” on NY radio