Boycotts are legitimate tools of protest against injustice

Rami Barhoush

The Electronic Intifada  /  January 26, 2021

In 1966, the Coca-Cola Company was accused of refusing to do business in Israel.

The claim had come from the pro-Israel lobby group Anti-Defamation League, and soon enough, the soft drink company faced potential boycotts in its own country.

Later that same year, Coca-Cola ended up franchising in Israel, arguably for fear of repercussions of a boycott in its home country. This led to the boycott of the company by Arab states.

Economic boycotts have been a common and effective means of protest in the US in the past century, and Americans rightly saw it as a civil and democratic way to exert non-violent pressure to effect political change.

As far back as 1933, following early signs of the anti-Semitism campaign against European Jews, many Americans responded to calls by the American Jewish Congress and other groups for the international boycott of Nazi Germany supported by Jews around the world.

Counter boycotts

The tendency to resort to economic and political boycott has become a hallmark of the pro-Israel lobby in the US in recent years, where the slightest diversion from the Israeli government’s narrative has often provided cause to be labelled anti-Semitic.

When vacation rental company Airbnb delisted properties inside Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank in 2018, it faced pressure and restrictions from Israeli and US officials.

Airbnb’s “guilt” lay in aligning its policies with those of the United Nations and most countries around the world that consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be in violation of international law.

For complying with international law, Airbnb was slandered as “anti-Semitic bed and breakfast” according to a full one-page advertisement in The Washington Post paid for by anti-Palestinian campaigner Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

US state officials condemned the company and vowed to punish it. Former US Vice President Mike Pence even asserted that Airbnb’s decision had “no place” in the market during a speech at the right-wing lobby group the Israeli American Council conference.

Airbnb eventually caved and reversed its decision.

In 2019, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the boycott of Israel’s Channel 12 for producing HBO’s television series Our Boys, which depicted the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khudair in 2014 by Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the series “anti-Semitic” and called for the boycott of the Israeli channel on which it aired.

After the United Nations Human Rights Office published last year a list of companies involved in Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank, Netanyahu ordered “the severing of ties” with it.

“Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted,” he added.

Regardless of the justifications for these boycotts, they were declared and pursued without hesitation or fear of reprisals.

BDS can flourish

The enthusiasm to resort to boycott as a means for pressuring change is understandable and commendable. It formed cornerstones in India’s revolt against British imperialism, in the campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa and during the civil rights movement in the United States.

If boycotts are used to reactivate online bookings or pressure television channels then how can they be viewed otherwise when it comes to the nonviolent Palestinian protest against the occupation of their land by the Israeli military regime?

If boycotting German goods is not anti-Christian or anti-European, and boycotting US companies is not anti-American, then why is boycotting Israeli goods spun as anti-Semitic?

The Zionist colonial project has robbed Palestinians of their land, their history and their human rights. More: It has robbed them even of their right to protest this egregious injustice.

Exactly as it was commendable for Mahatma Gandhi to boycott India’s British colonizers, and for Nelson Mandela to boycott South Africa’s apartheid, it is only appropriate for Palestinians to boycott Israel on their journey towards freedom.

The Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) has placed tremendous pressure on Israel, and has opened the eyes of the world to its oppressive nature.

BDS is the natural continuation of nonviolent freedom movements around the world, exposing the violent nature of the oppressor through tools that are all too familiar to the countries that perpetuate such oppression.

Freedom movements are fuelled by the punishments inflicted on them and the violence of their oppressors. In this sense, BDS can expect to flourish and celebrate more solidarity during the new year.

Rami Barhoush is the vice president of the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature (APN). He is based in Amman, Jordan