Article - from an Islamic website!
or Not to Boycott:
Is That the Question?
Staff writer - IslamOnline
There has been a renewed call for a boycott on all companies that
are linked to investments with Israel. One of the problems with
boycotting Israel, however, is that Israel seems to have its finger
in every pie. Weve no sooner stopped buying something, than
we find out another good is either made in Israel, or produced by
a company supporting it. The decision to boycott becomes a roller
coaster of surprises.
In the Arab world a boycott on Israel is nothing new. For 50 years
Arab countries - with the exception of Egypt and Jordan since their
peace treaties - have not traded directly with Israel. This did
not only include direct trade, but at one stage also dealing with
companies which had large investments in Israel. Cutting ties with
Israel also constituted academic, cultural and sport boycotts. Until
today, an Israeli lecturer in an Arab university is an unwelcome
So what is the point of this renewed call for a boycott? Is it
really going to make Israel stop its aggression? Does Israel actually
have a thriving economy to have a bash at in the first place? We
all know that Israel survives from aid from the U.S. and that without
it would collapse.
Lets face it, Israel is Americas darling little baby
and it is hardly going to let it fend for itself amidst all those
dangers from the outside world. If the Arab and Muslim worlds
only action is to strengthen its already existent boycott by using
the power as a consumer not to buy from companies that invest in
Israel, well, that will just be like depriving that spoiled baby
from its toys. It will make it cry for a while, but it knows full
well from where it gets its sustenance.
The onus seems to be on the general public since governments are
unwilling to ensure justice. But how is that responsibility to be
placed on the general public both in the West and elsewhere? Should
we concentrate our efforts on boycotting companies that invest in
Israel? I dont believe so, and in explaining why I would like
to divide this question into two categories: those who live in democratic
countries, i.e. the West, and those who live in non-democratic countries
- presuming they are aware of what is going on in the outside world.
In the U.K. there is some awareness and call for action. Within
the campaign that was launched in the House of Commons by two members
of parliament there is a call for a boycott on Israeli goods and
tourism. It is terrible that the Palestinians need to go through
Sabra and Shatila, a second Intifada and the recent massacres to
move people enough to act.
So, I ask, is this the action to be taken? What difference will
it make to the Israeli economy if no one bought their Jaffa oranges
or went to Eilat on vacation? And now, according to lists of blacklisted
companies that invest in Israel, it seems we are expected to scan
every single item in the high street for suspect products. Are the
people of conscience content in thinking that boycotting goods is
as far as their efforts go in bringing Israel to breaking point?
There has to be more viable ways of teaching this little country
that it must abide by U.N. resolutions. People in democratic countries
can lobby in all areas of public life, including paying for big
PR companies to show the world what is really going on in Palestine.
One only needs to look at how successful the Jews are themselves
at showing the world how much they suffered during the Holocaust.
There is a museum in Geneva (and now another recently opened in
Berlin) commemorating their plight under the Nazis. Although I have
not visited either, I am told that it is impossible not to leave
without crying. I wonder if, one day, there will be a museum depicting
the plight of the Palestinians or Muslims over the past 50 years.
People should use their democratic right to voice their disgust
at Israel and insist that Israel is considered an illegitimate state,
particularly since it has violated every single U.N. resolution
since the U.N.s establishment. It is only with an outright
condemnation among the general public through NGOs, charities,
etc., reflected on their power as voters, that the U.S. and other
countries - including the E.U. - will stop aiding and abetting Israel.
We shouldnt be fooled either. Britains recent arms
embargo on Israel is only a token gesture. The E.U.s decision
not to boycott Israel unless the Arab nations do so first is an
absurdity. They know full well that the Arab governments are not
liberated enough - it is like setting free birds bred in captivity
that discover although they can fly they dont know how to
survive in the wild. Again, is a consumer boycott on the public
level going to change international foreign policy? I dont
As for those living in non-democratic countries, what about that
boycott on companies that invest in Israel? Companies that produce
luxury consumer goods that are recent additions to their cultures?
I think this issue begs the question: what are people in the Arab
world doing making the point of refraining and abstaining from buying
products that are quintessentially Western?
Twelve years ago, when I first visited Cairo, youd be lucky
to find a fraction of the products on the boycott list. Nescafe
was sold in small sachets and only available in specialist supermarkets
frequented by the ex-pat community. Potato crisps were made by one
Egyptian company in one flavor (salted) and sold in family size
packets only. The variety of confectionary wouldnt have filled
a shoebox. As for fast food chains, there were no McDonalds, Kentucky
Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut. The roads were full of Egyptian made
Fiat 126 and old Peugeots were used as taxis.
Today, the streets of Cairo are another world. Just about every
fast-food outlet lines the major high streets, chains I had never
heard of even in the U.K. All the harmful confectionary, fizzy drinks
and snacks - some of which the West has managed to discontinue due
to the questionable additives - now not only fill grocery shops,
but also encroach the pavements. Many of them have cheap Egyptian
equivalents. Nescafe is now a drink for the upwardly mobile and
heavily advertised on television. The roads are jam-packed with
every model of car under the sun - there is even Egyptian Jaguar
for the really wealthy. The surge in Western goods and the peoples
desire for them has caused a commercial facelift. The same can be
said for many other countries throughout the developing world.
Why is it that in the Middle East people feel it is the norm to
buy Nestle produce, Coke, etc., and then feel they are achieving
something by boycotting them. They hardly existed 10 years ago.
What sort of challenge is that?
As for our information on those rouge companies, there is a plethora
of leaflets circulating universities and mosques, and e-mails on
the Internet telling us to boycott just about every American commodity
on the market. There are some grotesque e-mails sent with pictures
of dead Palestinian children next to the Kentucky logo, with a caption:
Every penny spent on a Kentucky Fried Chicken kills a Palestinian
child. I do not apologize for refusing to conform to such
I can think of many reasons as to why I should not, and in actual
fact generally do not, buy from McDonalds, Kentucky Fried
Chicken and others and they do not concern this campaign. But even
in this farcical boycott, peoples targets seem to be confused.
Are American fast-food chains realistic targets in their campaign
when it is unclear if the money, which eventually reaches the U.S.
government through commercial taxes, is assigned to Israel or not?
So not only is the boycott futile, it has lost its bearings.
Turning now to another tactic used in the Middle East and that
is the attempt by popular musicians and actors to contribute in
their support of the Palestinians. In a way, they see this as their
individual jihad or contribution to the events. I think this is
plausible. Art should be used to relate the events of the moment,
which in time will make history.
One example that I visited is the play Lan Tuskut al Quds (Never
will Jerusalem fall) performed daily in Cairo for the past five
months in the state theater by actors earning state salaries (which
are incredibly low). The story concerns the plight of the Palestinians
during Crusader times and their attempts to bring victory in the
face of impotent Muslim leaders. The story is somewhat allegorical
of todays events. This example is meaningful and, I feel,
However, such performances do not really make the headlines. It
is big pop stars like Kazim Saher, Latifa, Muhammad Fouad, Amr Diab
and other artists who, having recorded songs, that move the people.
Some of the songs are catchy, whimsical, in rhythmic classical Arabic,
and each comes with an accompanying tear-jerking video.
The whole razzmatazz, however, smacks of a Band Aid
type approach. Although the aim of Band Aid was to raise money for
the famine stricken, in the case of the Arab pop stars singing for
Palestine, it is more to pull the peoples emotional strings.
Just about every pop singer worth his street credibility has a video,
many of them making their iconic faces as prominent as the people
they are supposed to be championing.
The whole charade reminds me of something I read in Ziauddin Sardars
excellent book, Postmodernism and the Other:
This means that the world has been transformed into a theatre
where everything is artificially constructed. Politics is a stage
- managed for mass consumption. Television documentaries are transformed
and presented as entertainment. Journalism blurs the distinction
between fact and fiction. Living individuals become characters
in soap operas and fictional characters assume real lives. Everything
happens instantaneously and everybody gets a live feed on everything
that is happening in the global theatre.
The shadow of postmodernism and globalization has now found its
way to the Muslim worlds attempts to voice injustice. This
does not mean that anything Western is to the detriment of the developing
world and their cultures. No! The problem is more to do with the
diminishing of indigenous cultures and subsequently being replaced
by a Western one, but only, it is a bad replica.
So while the people in the Arab World boycott certain Western products
that are supposedly feeding the Israeli regime, we adopt Western
methods of sensitizing the emotions that merely touch our sentiments
and falsely make us feel as if we are living the anguish of the
Palestinians, when all we are doing is sitting in our living rooms
powerless. And as we watch these scenes, I ask, will we be drinking
Pepsi? Or will it be a local imitation?
Instead of being absorbed by a boycott on everything that is seemingly
American or has ties with Israel, shouldnt we ask ourselves
what really must be done?
Is it a matter of abstention from certain goods, which
have been imported to the developing world over the last 10 or more
years? If people in the Arab and Muslim world free themselves from
the need or habit of consuming these cultural importations maybe,
just maybe, they will be able to convince their governments that
they are ready for a sacrifice if their governments say enough is
enough to Israel. If Egypt says no more concessions to Israel, the
U.S. may well stop its wheat supplies. If the Gulf States
governments say no more, the U.S. may well stop extracting oil.
Are the Arab people prepared for that? God only knows if they are.
What was it that Gandhi did when he wanted to expel the British
- did he boycott certain British companies and products that were
ruling his country? No, he spun his own thread and made his own
garments. This maybe an extreme example, but it does show that people
in the Muslim World are kidding themselves if they think they are
contributing to the liberty of the Palestinians by picking and choosing
where they buy their Pizza or fizzy drink.
Boycotts, demonstrations, lobbying and the new use of popular culture
are Western tools in standing for ones rights. They are fine
and well within a democratic country. In the West, maybe a boycott
on Israeli produce can be used because it is part of the process
of awareness, but that campaign must have farther-reaching aims.
Boycotts are successful in many causes, one of them being South
Africa. But Israel does not survive from its economy. Nor do the
companies that invest in Israel do so because it is economically
viable. These companies are investing there because they have a
political and strategic agenda. Israel lives on handouts.
I think we all feel powerless with what is going on in Palestine.
Whether we watch these scenes from Manchester, Paris, Jeddah or
Lahore the message is vivid enough. But wherever we are we have
to think long term and act accordingly. Lets not get bogged
down with a consumer boycott that has all the best intentions but
achieves little, if anything.
A response to this article from a Muslimah activist:
I read this article and what a load of crap. The divestment of
South Africa did alot economically as well as raise awareness.
To not take part in a divestment against Israeli apartheid is
like giving a green light to genocide.
For those who believe in Allah/God, you are told to do good deeds,to
stand firm against injustice. You may not see results as you want
to see them, but Allah knows what you do, and Allah (swt) helps
those who begin to change their situations.
To sit and do nothing regarding divestment, because you think
nothing will come of it is just plain stupid. It may not happen
today, it may not happen tomorrow, it may not happen in our lifetimes,
the issue is that you work for justice regardless. We can't demand
when the results will occur, but this kind of demand for instant
gratification is like poison. Patience, and persistance and the
knowledge that you are working for justice should be enough. And
if that isn't enough, then you should just feel disgusted that
a product that you purchased has helped the economy of an apartheid
system. Was that drink or fries worth all that? I don't think