Gaza War Breathes Life Into Drive to Boycott Israel

Social media are abuzz, and companies rush to deny Israeli links, but there are few signs shoppers are actually shunning Israeli goods on the store shelves.

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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in London, August 2014.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in London, August 2014.Credit: Reuters

The Gaza war has breathed new life into the global campaign to boycott Israel and the foreign companies that do business with it, although the impact of a tide of social media campaigns on actual spending decisions by consumers so far seems to be nil.

One barometer of the campaign is the Buycott mobile application, which is designed to help social activists of all stripes raise consumer awareness of their causes. The app allows shoppers to scan the barcode of a product to determine who made it and to cross-check against the boycott drives the shopper has chosen.

All three of Buycott’s top trending campaigns called for boycotts of products made in Israel and companies that do business with it. “Long live Palestine boycott Israel” was No. 1, at 262,321, followed by “Avoid Israel settlement products” at 142,021 and “Boycott des produits sioniste en France, at 4,285.

A campaign against genetically-modified farm products was fourth and a pro-Israel campaign, “Support Israel and boycott terrorist organizations” was No. 5, at 6,768.

The trending figure refers not to the number of followers but to how quickly the campaign is gaining them. “Long live Palestine” had just 461 members on July 7, the eve of Operation Protective Edge.

“I noticed three weeks ago that we were seeing an unusual spike in traffic, but there hadn’t been any articles written about the app or Israel campaigns,” Ivan Pardo, the California developer who launched the app a year ago, told Forbes magazine. “Next thing I knew Buycott was a top 10-app in the U.K. and the Netherlands, and No. 1 in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Word was spreading through social media.”

Meanwhile, a dedicated app, Boycott Israel, which says it aims to encourage awareness about companies that help Israel, has had tens of thousands of downloads. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has been leading the drive against Israel, plans its own app.

Hugh Lanning, chair of the London-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign, told The International Business Times last week that he saw signs that the boycott campaign was becoming mainstream.

“We get the feeling that people are anxious. Individuals who have been outraged by what they’ve seen want ways in which they can individually protest. Boycott actions are being seen as a way the person in the street can say: out with that,” he said.

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee chain, felt the boycott pressure building enough that it felt compelled to respond over the weekend. Although the chain pulled out of Israel in 2003 after a brief foray, its founder and chairman, Howard Schultz, is Jewish and was being accused of donating money to the Israel Defense Forces.

“Is it true that Starbucks or Howard Schultz provides financial support to Israel?” the company asked in a question-and-answer section. “No. This is absolutely untrue. ... Rumors that Starbucks or Howard provides financial support to the Israeli government and/or the Israeli Army are unequivocally false.”

Despite the social media outrage, there haven’t been any confirmed reports of consumers mass boycotting Israeli products. Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, denied it had pulled from its shelves dates grown in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

A Tesco spokesman told the Jewish Chronicle the move was not “politically motivated” or connected to the Gaza conflict, rather part of a “regular product review process.”

Intel, the U.S. semiconductor company with extensive research and development and manufacturing operations is Israel, was subject to a fraudulent press release and webpage in its name that asserted at the end of last week that the company was rescinding plans to invest $6 billion in upgrading its Israeli manufacturing.

“An unknown individual has sent what purports to be a news release to some members of the media concerning Intel’s operations in Israel,” Intel said. “This is a hoax. The purported news release does not come from Intel and is false.”

In Muslim countries, where Israeli products are scarce, boycott efforts have focused on global companies doing business with Israel.

The Turkish daily Zaman reported that Istanbul and a host of small towns have been urging residents not to buy products made in Israel or that have links to Israel, such as Coca-Cola, in a campaign that began on social media. Malaysians have mounted a campaign against McDonald’s, accusing it of supporting Israel’s war effort.

Activists not only called for shunning Big Macs, but reportedly harassed McDonald’s employees, prompting the local franchisee to issue a statement. “The reality is that our employees and franchisees have done nothing wrong and it is grossly unfair that they should be targeted in such a way,” it said.

In Mumbai, The Indian newspaper The Hindu reported in late July that over 1,000 hotels in the city had joined a boycott of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other products sold in Israel. Kamlesh Sharma, public relations director of Coca-Cola in India, said it was too early to assess the impact. “They have chosen the wrong symbol of protest. Coca-Cola is still selling in Palestine,” he said.

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