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Anti-Boycott Article - from an Islamic website!

To Boycott or Not to Boycott:
Is That the Question?

By Joanne McEwan
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. We’ve 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 visitor.

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.

Let’s face it, Israel is America’s 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 world’s 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 don’t 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 NGO’s, 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 shouldn’t be fooled either. Britain’s 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 don’t know how to survive in the wild. Again, is a consumer boycott on the public level going to change international foreign policy? I don’t think so.

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, you’d 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 wouldn’t 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 people’s 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 browbeating tactics.

I can think of many reasons as to why I should not, and in actual fact generally do not, buy from McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and others and they do not concern this campaign. But even in this farcical boycott, people’s 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 today’s events. This example is meaningful and, I feel, culturally appropriate.

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 people’s 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 Sardar’s 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 world’s 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, shouldn’t 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 one’s 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. Let’s 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 so.