OPINION: Boycotts work so we should keep the pressure going

Mar 24, 2024 | OP-ED, Opinion

It has been more than 160 days since Israel’s war on Palestine after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

The death toll in Palestine after Israel’s offensives has reportedly crossed 30,000, while the number of injured has surpassed 71,000. An Oxfam report stated an average of 250 people are killed in a day by Israel.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Israel is reported to be 1,200, with Hamas taking about 240 hostages.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the United Nations have done the bare minimum to stop Israel’s genocide.

South Africa presented its case against Israel for its war in Gaza to the ICJ on Dec. 29, 2023. The ICJ didn’t recommend an immediate cease-fire.

Moreover, Israel is threatening to expand its ground assault into Rafah where Palestinians fleeing Gaza have sought refuge.

South Africa lodged a request with the ICJ to consider whether this move would breach the court’s provisional orders given on Jan. 26, 2024. The ICJ declined South Africa’s request for urgent measures to safeguard Palestinians. However, it said the provisional measures must be implemented.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the situation in Gaza is “hellish” and has asked Israel not to enter Rafah.

The question begging to be asked is whether Israel’s military actions go beyond the right to defence. Israel has bombed hospitals, residential areas and refugee camps.

Patients at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis were forced to leave after Israel ordered an evacuation.

As a result, people have taken to various forms of protest, such as marches and hunger strikes.

Among them are boycotts of corporations like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

The Palestinian-led BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is also helping circulate information about what brands to boycott. BDS was formed in 2005 to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.”

People are also sharing BDS updates on brands that are sending financial support or vocally supporting Israel. Paramount Global pledged its support to Israel and the Jewish community. The Walt Disney Company donated US$2 million to organizations providing humanitarian aid in Israel.

It is not wrong to send relief or show support.

What is wrong is condemning one and staying mum on the other.

If antisemitism is real, so is Islamophobia.

The heart of anti-establishment movements is the notion of an individual versus the state.

Abu Sufiyan, a brand strategist from Delhi, India, was to participate as a vendor at a food event, but he withdrew when he came to know that it was sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Though Coca-Cola has said it “does not fund military operations in any country,” it is being boycotted for violating international law in Atarot. It operates a plant in Atarot, a territory illegally occupied under international law by Israel in Palestine.

“With the event, Coca-Cola wanted to penetrate the dastarkhwaan (tablecloth) concept of dining with family and friends. The goal was to replace home-made beverages with Coca-Cola,” Sufiyan said.

“I couldn’t align myself with their positioning in the war, so I withdrew,” abandoning his C$1,630 investment in the show, he said.

Sufiyan has a social media reach of 200,000 followers. His past events have generated footfalls of more than 10,000 visitors.

“They could have become potential early adopters of Coca-Cola,” he said.

Reports on consumer data, especially from the Middle East, have shown people increasingly prefer home-grown brands over these companies.

Chris Kempczinski, the CEO of McDonald’s, admitted in a post on LinkedIn that markets in the Middle East and some outside the region were experiencing a “meaningful business impact.”

He said the “associated misinformation” was “disheartening and ill-founded.”

McDonald’s hasn’t issued any statement in favour of Israel.

Starbucks sued its union, Starbucks Workers United, on Oct. 20, 2023, after the union tweeted in support of Palestine. The company said it condemned Hamas and disagreed with the union’s views.

In the lawsuit, Starbucks has reportedly mentioned it received more than 1,000 complaints after the union’s tweet.

Soon, calls to boycott Starbucks flooded social networks.

The company stated on Dec. 29, 2023, that it has no political agenda and does “not fund any government or military operations anywhere.”

Reports show these calls to boycott coupled with a slow recovery in China led to Starbucks’s shares plummeting by 8.96 per cent in December, amounting to roughly US$11 billion or C$14.8 billion.

Historically speaking boycotts have worked by uniting people and ushering in reforms.

One of the most prominent faces of India’s fight for independence against the British Raj, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi started the Swadeshi (Swa: Self, Deshi: Country) movement on Aug. 7, 1905. The nationwide movement called for a boycott of British-made goods, especially cotton.

Gandhi urged people to spin their cotton.

This led to a decrease in British imports and to the implementation of the Indian Councils Act of 1909, also known as Morley-Minto Reforms, allowing an increase in Indian participation in the legislature.

The efficacy of boycotts coupled with other forms of protest are known to make an impact. Sure, there can be a few hits and misses, but it does pave the way for the world to take cognizance.