Boycotting Ivanka and Israel Is Equally Indefensible

The boycotters demonstrate an inflated and highly selective moral sensibility: Nordstrom and other retailers sell far more objectionable items, like fur coats.

Ivanka and Donald Trump. Feb. 1, 2017. Both are wearing dark blue suits. He is wearing a white shirt and light blue  tie. She is wearing a knee-length skirt and high black heels, and is carrying t black handbag. The two are outside. In the foreground we see a tree trunk, blurred.
Evan Vucci, AP

You may have been blissfully unaware of it, but if you had been flipping through the dress racks at your local Nordstrom department store over the last few months, you were engaged in a highly political and morally offensive act. The same applies if you shop at Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale's or Amazon.

That’s because all of these outlets have, or had been, carrying the Ivanka Trump apparel line.

A boycott campaign under the Twitter banner #GrabYour Wallet has been urging people to not only scorn the first daughter’s line of clothing, but the retailers who carry it. Their argument is that wearing Ivanka is tantamount to supporting Donald and his racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, neoliberal and authoritarian policies.

As quixotic as a campaign like that would appear – after all, adhering to GrabYourWallet’s call would narrow an American’s shopping options to almost zero – it seems to be having an effect. Nordstrom, among other leading U.S. chains, has announced they are dropping all or part of the Ivanka line, or is lowering its profile in their stores.

Guilty as charged, of being his daughter

To the many people who are justifiably shocked and horrified that Donald Trump is now ensconced in the White House, a boycott seems like an effective response.

Trump’s election is about more than politics – it’s about what kind of country America is or will be; it’s about competing moral visions – and that’s as good a reason as any to boycott your opponent.

But how far does the moral taint of Donald Trump extend?

Ivanka is certainly guilty of being Trump’s daughter. She plays the role of informal adviser and (as the Trump family is wont to do) has exploited the celebrity that comes with being part of the first family to further her business.

But she has taken no formal role in the administration. She has not spoken in public about her views and is not known to have initiated any policies.

Fur coats and Israeli products

Then, there’s Nordstrom’s complicity, which is infinitesimal. The Ivanka line reportedly generated $14.3 million in sales for the department store in the most recent full fiscal year, equal to about one-tenth of one percent of the company's total sales.

If you’re looking for real complicity in wrongdoing, you can be quite confident that Nordstrom carries many products made in China. Beijing is certainly a far bigger offender of human rights than Ivanka Trump can even aspire to be. I’m willing to bet that the store sells products made with child or other exploited labor because in the global supply chain, that is inevitable. Nordstrom sells fur coats. And, hey, BDSers, Nordstrom also carries Israeli products.

The boycott of Ivanka Trump and the stores that sell her clothes is an ugly mixture of inflated (but inevitably highly selective) moral sensibilities, combined with an even more inflated sense of self-importance, that says the world should bend to whatever outrage-of-the-day moves you.

Israel has also been the victim of this style of boycott insanity.

We have done worse things than Ivanka Trump has, although to cut us a little slack, we have been around twice as long than she has, we control an army, which poses more human rights problems than owning a fashion line, and we live in the Middle East, a part of the world that presents more than the average number of moral dilemmas (what’s the right thing to do by Syria?).

But by world standards, Israel is not particularly immoral. For true believers of Israeli wickedness, the thing is to elevate everything Israel does wrong into a heinous crime, and everything it does right into no less of an offense. Thus, we plant forests not to roll back the desert but to cover up the former Palestinian presence; we send rescue crews to disaster areas for PR purposes, unlike the rest of the world, which only sends their teams for purely humanitarian reasons.

Most people can see through this and aren’t going to stop patronizing their favorite store or product. Boycotts rely on lots of noise and fictitious victories to keep it in the public eye and give the appearance of success.

But it’s appearance. More than a decade of BDS activity has seen foreign investment into Israel grow by leaps and bounds, and for every business that may have left Israel (and it’s often unclear that BDS is the reason), dozens more are coming.

The Ivanka boycott is also less of an issue than touted to be. Nordstrom said it dropped the line due to sharply falling sales -- and objective, third-party data back that claim.  

The intense media coverage the Ivanka boycott has received in America has scared retailers, who fear the slightest offense to their customers. But the sales drop is probably due to women who don’t want to be associated with the name as a matter of personal choice and self-image, just like a Cubs fan won’t sport a White Sox cap. She’s not boycotting Ivanka or the stores that carry her clothing as a matter of principle or politics.

Like BDS, GrabYourWallet will try to say otherwise, but don’t believe it.