By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
Click photo to download. Caption: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a July 2008 meeting on the environmental aspects of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Some activists are now calling for an Olympic boycott due to Putin’s anti-gay policies. Credit: premier.gov.ru.
One of the oft-repeated
criticisms of the movement to boycott Israel is that it portrays the Middle
East’s only healthy democracy as the ultimate rogue state, ignoring at the same
time those authoritarian regimes that violate the most basic human rights on a
daily basis. Frankly, that’s why I’m pleased to announce that the boycott I’m
writing about here, one that is picking up pace, has nothing to do with Israel,
the Palestinians, or the Middle East in general.
This time, the target is
Russia. Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has reverted to the habits of
the old Soviet Union, cracking down on internal dissent, backing the world’s
worst regimes, such as Syria and Iran, and adopting a confrontational stance
toward the United States, most recently by granting asylum to Edward Snowden, a
fugitive who is regarded by many Americans as a traitor.
As a stalwart of what he
regards as “traditional” values, Putin has also declared war on homosexuality.
In July, Putin signed a bill that makes it illegal for gay couples to adopt
Russian-born children. And if you are a heterosexual couple living in a country
where gay marriage is legal, then you too are prohibited from adopting Russian
There’s more. Visitors to
Russia who are suspected of being gay, or of supporting the cause of gay
equality, can be detained by the police for up to two weeks. Even the mere act
of educating children about homosexuality could land you with a heavy fine or
prison sentence, because you’d be engaging in what the Russian state calls “homosexual
These ugly measures have
rightly sparked outrage in the free world. Some activists, particularly in the
gay community, believe the time is now right for a boycott of Russia. As The Atlantic magazine described it, “from
Vancouver to London” gay bars and clubs are dumping Russian vodka. On top of
that, prominent celebrities like the American playwright Harvey Fierstein and
the British actor Stephen Fry are advocating a boycott of the 2014 Winter
Olympics, which will be held in the Russian resort of Sochi.
How should Jews assess these
Russian boycott calls? The question is an important one, because we have been
on the receiving end of many boycott campaigns over the last century. The Nazis
famously coined the term “Kauft Nicht bei Juden”—“Don’t Buy From Jews”—in their
campaign to ruin Germany’s Jews on the eve of the Holocaust; in 1945, the Arab
League initiated a boycott of the Jewish community in the British Mandate of
Palestine, which later mushroomed into a boycott of the State of Israel; and in
our own time, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement …read more