Solidarity For Palestine Has Impacted The World
Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement is going from strength to strength
It has been around 90 days since Israel Occupation Forces started bombing Gaza. The massive attacks have reportedly killed over 21,000 people. Everyday massacres are unleased by Israel, and people all over the world are shocked to see the genocide unfold on their screen.
Massive protests are taking place across the world, and people are writing to their political leaders to demand a ceasefire. Amidst this, the nearly two-decade-old movement: boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS), has once again taken on global capitalist franchises like Starbucks, McDonalds, Israeli brands, and brands supporting Israel.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was set up in 2005 by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups and started as a global grassroot initiative. The movement was launched by 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies.
The BDS movement seeks to challenge international support for what it calls Israeli apartheid, and settler colonialism – where colonists replace the Indigenous community. The movement’s website states that it “upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity”.
Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the United States’ civil rights movement and the Indian anti-colonial struggle, BDS aims to make boycotts effective by focusing on selected companies and products that have a direct role in Israel’s policies against Palestinians.
“The BDS is all about using non-violent political and economical actions to protest Israel’s policies towards Palestinians. The advocates of the movement, started pushing individuals, and governments globally that are linked to the occupation, and to slap sanctions to force Israel to adhere to international rights. That was the whole basic idea of the movement,” independent journalist Kasturi Chakraborty, who covers Gaza and West Bank, told The Citizen.
But what does BDS do? The founders of BDS explain what they mean by each term.
-Boycotts involve withdrawing support from Israel's apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.
-Divestment campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.
-Sanctions campaigns pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with “illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel's membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA”.
“The movement has grown over a period of time and you can see massive global boycott institutions, artists are cancelling their gigs and major capitalist companies are changing their game,” Chakraborty explained.
Speaking to ‘Al-Jazeera’, Omar Bargouhti, one of the BDS co-founders, said Israel has for many years dedicated a full government ministry to fighting the BDS movement. “Anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the BDS movement categorically opposes all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. BDS targets complicity, not identity,” Barghouti said.
He however, added that the current boycott around the world against McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and other companies is coming from organic grassroots campaigns, not initiated by the BDS movement.
One of the major impacts that BDS has shown is the loss for the organisation Seattle-based Starbucks Corp, which has reportedly lost over $11 billion (nearly Rs. 1100 crore) in value this last quarter due to Palestinian solidarity boycotts and employee strikes since October 7.
In October, the coffee giant turned to sue their union, Starbucks Workers United, after objecting to the latter’s social media post in solidarity with Palestine, citing intellectual property theft and harassment of baristas at Starbucks Cafe locations.
Although the organisation tried to bounce back on losses with their holiday season “Red Cup Day” campaign that would allow consumers to receive a free reusable holiday cup with every purchase, the company has seen its market share crash by 8.96 percent, the lowest it has experienced since 1992.
“People were initially saying that the movement is not working but it is actually not true, its impact is huge. It is not just symbolic, but is also influencing decision making in various sectors. This is the power of this movement,” Chakraborty, added.
Take for example, the global favourite fast food chain McDonald's that was put on the boycott list because its Israeli franchise holder donated free meals to soldiers at the start of the war. The boycot organicaly spread across the world.
“I am not consuming any of these products and honestly it is not even that difficult when a genocide is happening place,” Hanan, a Delhi based software engineer said.
On social media, people were seen going for alternative brands, instead of those on the boycott list. The BDS movement has had such a vast level social media exposure, that many people volunteered to gathered all the names, turn their logos into graphics so that people could easily differentiate between the brands.
For this purpose, an app called “No Thanks” was launched in November. It has been downloaded over 100,000 times so far. Users can scan the barcode of a product, or enter its name, and within seconds they are informed to what extent the manufacturer "supports Israel." Then "No Thanks" is displayed as an appeal not to buy certain products. Videos on TikTok and X show that companies such as Coca-Cola and Nescafé are among those listed.
The app was developed by Ahmed Bashbash, currently living in Hungary, who is a Palestinian belonging to Gaza. He told ‘Al Jazeera’ in an interview that he lost his brother in the current massacre and that his sister died in 2020 because she did not receive medical support from Israel in time.
“I made it on behalf of my brother and my sister who I lost because of this brutal occupation, and my goal is to try to prevent what happened to me from happening to another Palestinian,” Bashbash said. He compiled the list of companies that allegedly support Israel with the help of the websites "BoycottZionism" and "Ulastempat."
Meanwhile, in addition to BDS’s target list, in 2020 the United Nations Human Rights Office published a list of 112 business entities that had ties with Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”.
“OHCHR found that 112 of the 188 business enterprises considered for inclusion in the database met the required standard of reasonable grounds to believe that they were involved in one or more of the listed activities,” the database read.
According to Amnesty International, complicity in war crimes is an offence for which individuals, including business directors and managers, can be held criminally liable.
Data from OHCHR
The listed activities include: supply of equipment and materials facilitating the construction and the expansion of settlements and the wall; supply of surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, the wall and checkpoints directly linked with settlements; supply of equipment for the demolition of housing and property, the destruction of agricultural farms, greenhouses, olive groves and crops; supply of security services, equipment and materials to enterprises operating in settlements; provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements, including transport; banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses.
Ninety-four of the firms named are Israel-based. The remaining 18 are in other countries, including the US, UK, Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Thailand.
Despite being a global movement that has shown renewed interest, especially after October 7, BDS is banned on many US and Canadian campuses, and in at least 35 states in the US.
Chakraborty said that the movement has only grown over the period of time, despite many criticising the movement for hampering the “peace talks”. “This is a legit peaceful resistance movement if one looks at it,” she added
In 2019, Airbnb, a San Francisco-based company, reversed its decision to remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank. In November 2019, the company provoked an uproar and a flood of litigation when it said that it would eliminate about 200 listings in West Bank settlements.
Under international laws, tourism in Israel-controlled settlements is deemed illegal, and excludes Palestinian cities and towns, most of which Israelis are forbidden from entering by the Israeli state.
“This was all part of the BDS movement. That was a massive repercussion and it all happened because of the movement. No one could have imagined something so huge happening,” Chakraborty added.
Meanwhile, fashion giant Zara has found itself in a truffle when they released a controversial advertisement where the campaign featured mannequins that were missing limbs and statues wrapped in a white shroud. Some activists said the photographs resembled images from Israel’s assault on Gaza, where thousands of Palestinians have been killed and thousands of others wounded.
After a massive uproar by pro-Palestine activists Zara removed the controversial advertisement. Inditex, the company that owns Zara, said on Monday that the change was part of a normal process of refreshing content and that the photos were taken in September.
Zara’s Instagram account saw tens of thousands of comments posted about the photos, many with Palestinian flags, while “#BoycottZara” was trending on messaging platform X.
Almost a month since the advertisement was taken down, people are still protesting the brand. “I have burnt or destroyed the clothes I owned by these companies,” a Delhi based activist said.
Zara has said that the ad campaign was conceived in July, the photographs taken in September, and that it was inspired by men’s tailoring from past centuries. The company has not commented on boycott calls.
However, it is not the first time that the company has been targeted for boycott by supporters of Palestine. In 2022, some Palestinians posted videos of them burning Zara clothes and calling for others not to support the fashion brand after a franchise owner of Zara stores in Israel hosted a campaign event for the ultra-right-wing Israeli politician Itamar Ben-Gvir in his home.
Ben-Gvir took to social media himself to defend the company at the time. “Zara, cool clothes, cool Israelis,” he said in a social media post.
While many are still questioning whether the boycotts are making an impact or not, the numbers show a visible change. Starbucks in Egypt reportedly laid off workers in late November after being financially affected by the boycott, forcing it to cut expenses. While the genocide in Gaza and Occupied West Bank continues, so do the calls for for brand boycotts.