Does boycotting Israeli goods work?

Web DeskNovember 28, 2023
Does boycotting Israeli goods work?

McDonald’s Pakistan stirred controversy after the Israeli franchise of the fast-food chain pledged to distribute thousands of free meals to the Israeli army, igniting discussions about corporate responsibility amidst the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, advocating non-violent resistance against entities supporting Palestinian oppression, highlights corporations like Hewlett-Packard (HP) for aiding Israel’s surveillance of Palestinians through a biometric ID system. This movement aims to end international backing for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and enforce compliance with international law.

In recent times, the BDS movement has gained traction in countries like Pakistan, Turkey, and Egypt due to growing support for the Palestinian cause among citizens.

Across Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Malaysia, and Pakistan, among others, consumers are rejecting brands allegedly complicit in Palestinian oppression. In Pakistan, social media campaigns urge boycotting various brands like Dominos, Carrefour, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo.

Boycott Mcdonald’s poster.— photo courtesy Palestine info centre/X

Certain retailers, like the Karachi-based Imtiaz superstore chain, reportedly removed Israeli-linked or believed Israeli products from their shelves. Local restaurant chains like Kababjees excluded beverages such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola from their menus. Celebrities like Ushna Shah and Usman Khalid Butt have actively voiced support for the BDS movement.

Why Choose Boycotts? Boycotting, an act of activism, draws its effectiveness from historical instances, like South Africa’s apartheid regime, where sanctions significantly influenced the regime’s decline. However, the impact depends on factors such as customer engagement, accessibility, issue clarity, and effective media utilization.

Yet, the efficacy of boycotts in significantly affecting Israel’s economy or altering its stance remains uncertain. Israel’s economic structure, heavily reliant on technological exports rather than consumer goods, makes it resilient to traditional boycott impacts.

Dr. Akbar Zaidi, a political economist, emphasized Israel’s role as a major exporter of software, spyware, drones, and military ammunition. He dismissed the probability of widespread boycotts affecting Israel’s trade partnerships.

The Indirect Impact: Despite minimal direct financial impact, boycotts convey discontent, potentially affecting a firm’s image, investor confidence, and market presence. Negative media attention generated by boycotts can lead to policy changes within corporations.

However, the momentum of boycotts often dwindles due to short attention spans. While BDS movements have influenced divestments and policy shifts in some instances, long-term financial repercussions for companies are rare.

Local Economy Implications: The potential impact of boycotts on Pakistan’s economy is debated. Dr. Adil Nakhoda, an economist, cautioned against expecting significant economic disruptions. Boycotts might hinder economic activity and reduce demand for goods without impactful outcomes for intended stakeholders.

Furthermore, the debate extends to supporting local products, although concerns persist about local quality, certification, and standards. Dr. Zaidi highlighted multinational corporations’ complex ownership structures, blurring lines of culpability.

The Effectiveness Question: Dr. Zaidi concluded that while solidarity is crucial, protests alone lack substantial influence. Governments, motivated by their agendas, determine impactful actions, reducing the efficacy of protests or boycotts.

The overarching sentiment favors raising awareness about the Gaza crisis globally but questions the sustained momentum and collective efforts beyond social media activism.

Boycotts remain a potent tool when sustained and garner sufficient coverage, yet their immediate economic impact and ability to alter Israel’s stance remain uncertain amidst global geopolitical complexities.

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