Dubai: Pressure on companies to boycott Israel amid the most recent round of violence in Gaza has mounted in recent weeks. An online petition urging divestment from Israel has reached nearly 1.7 million signatures and businesses across the world have been threatened with wide-scale boycotts as the movement appears to be gathering steam.
The Avaaz petition, titled “This is how it ends”, calls on six large companies to cease “continued investment in companies and projects that finance illegal settlements and the oppressive occupation of the Palestinian people”. It received substantial endorsement from British actor and comedian Russell Brand on his popular YouTube channel “The Trews”. The companies targeted are ABP, HP, Veolia, Barclays, Caterpillar and G4S. Brand called on his viewers to sign the petition, suggesting that “if we are aware of what they [the six companies] do then we have the power to influence them”.
Recent weeks have also seen Starbucks release a statement amid suggestions that CEO Howard Schultz had provided financial support for the Israeli government. The statement said that Starbucks “has been, and remains a non-political organisation” and dismissed suggestions that it had provided financial support to Israel as “absolutely untrue”. The statement also highlighted the fact that whilst it has more than 600 stores across the Middle East and North Africa, it has not operated any outlets in Israel since 2003.
Several other companies were also compelled to take action; the Malaysian wing of McDonalds was forced to take out a full page advertisement in a local newspaper clarifying its position on Israel under the threat of a national boycott. Whilst in Ireland, Supervalu, the country’s largest food retailer, was reported by The Irish Herald to have withdrawn all Israeli produce from its 232 stores, a claim the company later refuted. Headlines were also made this year when Dutch pension fund PGGM elected to divest from Israeli banks, in a move that indicated that even some of the world’s largest financial organisations are beginning to take note of BDS.
The Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement was founded in 2005 with the aim of applying economic pressure on Israel to change its policies on Palestine. Citing inspiration from the success of economic boycotts in bringing to an end apartheid-era South Africa, the movement campaigns for boycotts, divestment and sanctions on the government of Israel and organisations associated with Israel.
The movement received endorsement from figures such as Noam Chomsky and Stephen Hawking and has proved particularly popular on university campuses across Europe and North America where hundreds of student unions have adopted motions boycotting Israeli goods. It has even drawn response from the Israeli government earlier this year when Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned that “the boycott is moving and advancing exponentially … Those who don’t want to see it, will end up feeling it”.
Yet BDS is not without its controversy. In 2011, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that rendered calling for such actions against Israel a civil offence. Israeli attempts have also been made to paint the BDS movement as anti-Semetic, a common ploy used by the state to demonise those who oppose its policies. In a report issued by the Simon Wiesenthal centre last year, the BDS movement was described as a “thinly veiled, anti-Semitic poison pill”.
Gareth Browne is an intern with Gulf News