From the British Mandate to Ben & Jerry's: 100 Years of Boycott and Israel

Ofer Aderet
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A Ben & Jerry's factory in Beer Tuvia, this week.
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
The British Mandate period
A brick factory in Tel Aviv during the Mandate period.
A brick factory in Tel Aviv during the Mandate period.Credit: Hans Pinn/GPO

The Arab boycott of Jewish products in Mandatory Palestine was declared and enforced in a variety of ways, most of them locally, in the early days of the British Mandate for Palestine in the 1920s. In an article published in 1925, titled “Boycott of Jewish merchants,” Haaretz reported that Arab youths in Jerusalem had established a movement “whose goal was to distribute only the goods of Arab merchants.” The article quoted the call for a boycott published in an Arab newspaper: “Don’t buy from the Jews, come and bargain with the Arab merchant, the merchant facing bankruptcy, and strengthen him. We must completely boycott the Jews.”

(In the photo: A brick factory in Tel Aviv during the Mandate period. Credit: Hans Pinn/GPO)

The Arab League boycott
News about the onset of the boycott.
News about the onset of the boycott.Credit: Haaretz, 1946

At the end of 1945, the Arab League declared an economic boycott against Jewish goods from Palestine. It went into effect on January 1, 1946. "Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries,” the Arab League announcement stated. The reason: the need to “defend oneself with peaceful means to maintain Arab sovereignty" in Palestine and to fight the intentional accumulation there of Jewish capital, which would enable the establishment of a Jewish state. Haaretz’s editorial that same week pointed an accusing finger at the “British colonialists,” and said the decision on the boycott “in itself sheds gloomy light on the period lacking any chance of peace, which the Near East has been placed in by outside agents.” Haaretz called the boycott “an economic declaration of war,” saying: “Instead of a regional economy – a regional war.” According to Haaretz, the boycott announcement “landed like thunder on a clear day on the Arab merchants in the Land of Israel,” who wondered whether the boycott would lead to commercial paralysis given the lack of a non-Zionist source for much of the means of production they were using.

(In the photo: News in 1946 about the onset of the boycott. Credit: Haaretz)

First cracks in the boycott
Report on Arabs buying in Tel Aviv.

The author of the “I saw, I heard” column in Haaretz remained optimistic during the first week of the boycott, writing: “I went out yesterday to roam the streets of Tel Aviv, to see with my own eyes what evil the Arab boycott is causing, on the first day of its imposition, to Zionist produce. I passed very many commercial centers in the city: Allenby Road, Nahalat Binyamin.” He described how Arab women bought Jewish-made clothes; Jews sat together in cafes with Arabs in tarbooshes and kaffiyehs, and “the negotiations continued easily alongside the demitasses of Turkish coffee.”     

The Hatzofeh newspaper reported similar impressions. “As yesterday, the second day of the Arab boycott, today, was not felt much in Tel Aviv. As before, many Arabs came to Jewish stores and bought anything available. They especially bought a lot of ‘Toelet’ (brand) goods. As we were told, the Arab merchants in Jaffa are complaining about the decline in the number of Jewish purchasers. A few merchants expressed their fears that the Jews declared a secret boycott of Arab goods.”

(In the photo: A 1946 report on Arabs buying in Tel Aviv despite the boycott. Credit: Hatzofeh)

The Boycott Office
News about the Boycott Office.

After the War of Independence, the Arab League opened its Boycott Office in Cairo to maintain the “blacklist” of international companies that operated in Israel. The office moved to Damascus in 1951.

(In the photo: News in 1951 about the Boycott Office moving to Damascus. Credit: Haboker Newspaper)

The Arabs are suffering, too
Report: "Arabs states suffering more"

Haaretz quoted an assessment from Dr. G. Maron, the Foreign Ministry’s economic adviser, according to which the Arab boycott “harmed Arab countries much more than Israel.” Maron said that “while Israel has found alternative supply sources, the Arabs have lost out on irreplaceable marketing opportunities.” 

(In the photo: A 1951 report with the headline, "Arab states are suffering more than Israel from the boycott the sanctioned against us." Credit: Haaretz)   

Renault joins the boycotters
Renault joins the boycott.

“In an unprecedented surrender to Arab pressure, the French national company Renault ceased its operations in Israel,” the Davar newspaper reported. According to the story, the reason was “a promise from the Arab Boycott Office that its name would be removed from the 'blacklist’ if it would agree to violate its contract, by which Renault must supply Israelis with parts for 2,400 automobiles.”

(In the photo: A 1959 report about Renault "surrendering" to the Arab boycott. Credit: Davar)

Israel conquers Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola ad, 1968.

Israel used American Jewish organizations, led by the Anti-Defamation League, to organize a counter-boycott against the Coca-Cola Company, which had yet to agree to license beverage production in Israel. The battle ended in victory for Israel. Coca-Cola, which claims it never boycotted Israel, agreed to open a plant in Israel, which was opened in Bnei Brak in 1968. “In the end, Jewish stubbornness won,” wrote the Davar newspaper. “We could live for a great many more years without Coca-Cola, but we couldn’t bear that a large U.S. corporation, which serves millions of Jews in the United States and around the globe, would refuse to grant a license to manufacture its products in Israel just because it surrendered to the Arab boycott,” wrote the Maariv newspaper. Its great rival Pepsi arrived in Israel only a quarter century later.

(In the photo: A 1968 ad for Coca-Cola in Israel. Credit: Coca-Cola)

Toyota says no to Israel, Subaru says yes
A ship delivering Subaru vehicles in 1979.
A ship delivering Subaru vehicles in 1979.Credit: Hanania Herman/GPO

Japanese automotive giant Toyota joined the Arab boycott, and cars from Japan’s Hino Motors, which joined the Toyota Group in 1967, vanished from the Israeli market. Fellow major Japanese carmakers Nissan and Honda, as well as other smaller companies like Mazda and Mitsubishi, also boycotted Israel. Initially, only Subaru entered the Israeli market.

(In the photo: A ship delivering Subaru vehicles in 1978. Credit: Hanania Herman/GPO)

Oil embargo
Selling oil from a Paz mobile fuel dispenser, 1972.
Selling oil from a Paz mobile fuel dispenser, 1972.Credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO

As a result of the Yom Kippur War, Arab countries imposed an embargo and other restrictions on the sale of oil to Western Europe and to the United States – to apply pressure on these countries to end their support for Israel. Oil prices shot up both worldwide and in Israel, which was buying its oil from Iran at the time, forcing everyone to search for ways to save energy. In Israel, the temporary solution was to keep all cars off the road once a week.

(In the photo: Selling oil from a Paz mobile fuel dispenser in 1972. Credit: Fritz Cohen/GPO)

The 1990s and onward
The disintegration of the boycott
Toyota ad, 1992.

A series of historic events, including the first Gulf War, the Oslo Accords and the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty led to the Arab boycott's demise. In 1994, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated that the Arab boycott was collapsing. Later the Foreign Ministry's director general, Uri Savir, announced that “the Arab boycott is informally dead.” The last blow came last year, when the United Arab Emirates officially lifted its economic boycott on Israel, in place since 1972.  

(In the photo: A Toyota ad in 1992. Credit: Toyota)

McDonald’s comes to Israel
Opening of Israel's first McDonald's, at the Ayalon Mall, 1993.
Opening of Israel's first McDonald's, at the Ayalon Mall, 1993.Credit: Sivan Farag

The arrival of the American hamburger chain in Israel created a lot of excitement. After rival fast-food chains Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza entered the Israeli market in the early 1990s, the masses of Israeli meat eaters agreed to forgive McDonald’s for its decades of participating in the boycott. Television cameras showed Israelis crowded in line for the opening of the first branch, in Ramat Gan's Ayalon Mall. 20 years after making Aliyah to Israel, the chain drew harsh criticism when it refused to open a branch in the West Bank city of Ariel.

(In the photo: The opening of Israel's first McDonalds's, at the Ayalon Mall in 1993. Credit: Sivan Farag)

The boycott is back?
Pro-BDS protesters in Marseille, France, in 2015.
Pro-BDS protesters in Marseille, France, in 2015.Credit: Georges Robert/AFP

A serious of bloody incidents in the early 2000s brought the boycott back into fashion. This time, international organizations led what they called a boycott on “Israeli products” from the territories. The proximate causes were the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The BDS movement was founded during this period. First on the list were the Ahava beauty products from the Dead Sea region; SodaStream from Mishor Adumim in the West Bank; agricultural produce exporter Agrexco, one of the best-known symbols of Israeli agriculture; cellular operator Orange; the international partners in building the train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; the operators of the Jerusalem light rail and many others. 

(In the photo: Protesters marching behind a banner ofthe BDS organization in Marseille, France, in 2015. Credit: Georges Robert/AFP)

Airbnb decides to boycott the settlements – and backs down
airbnbCredit: Issei Kato/Reuters

Short-term rental website Airbnb announced it would remove properties offered for rent in Israeli settlements in the West Bank from its site. A few months later it backtracked, as a result of discrimination lawsuits – but announced instead that it would donate the profits from its operations in the West Bank to charity.  

(In the photo:The Airbnb logos. Credit: Issei Kato/Reuters)

The ice cream war
The Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory in Beer Tuvia.
The Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory in Beer Tuvia.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Ben & Jerry’s, the U.S. ice cream giant – whose founders were two Jews, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield – announces it will stop selling its products in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The Israeli licensee, who manufactures the ice cream in Israel, opposes the boycott and directed the blame at the huge multinational corporation Unilever, which owns Ben & Jerry’s.

(In the photo: The Ben & Jerry's ice cream factory in Beer Tuvia. Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)