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Boycott of Israeli and US companies gaining momentum

The Muslim News
By Shatha Khalil and Abdul Adil
Issue 158
28 June 2002


Throughout the world campaigns calling for the boycott of Israeli goods are gaining momentum. The boycott is growing in the Muslim world where not only Israeli goods, companies who support Israel are targeted, but US giants like Starbucks and Pepsi have also been affected. Israeli academics and artists are also being boycotted in the Western world

The campaign to boycott Israeli goods is “perceived to be a way to hit back at ‘the Zionist state’ and those governments perceived to be its main backers” explains Africa Analysis (May 3).

In Lebanon, the religious leader Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah issued a fatwa on this subject: “All American and Israeli goods and products should be boycotted in a way that undermines American and Israeli interests so as to act as deterrence to their war against Muslims and Islam that is being waged under the pretence of fighting terrorism. This boycott should become an overwhelming trend that makes these two states feel that their economies are in a real and actual danger.” Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardawi has also issued a fatwa calling for the boycotting of Israeli and American products and companies.

The Egyptian Agricultural Professions’ Trade Union (EGTU) has also backed the campaign. It is boycotting all Israeli agricultural co-operation, production and fertilisers and aims to take disciplinary action against anyone not enforcing the boycott.

Further to the actions of the EGTU, consumer power in Egypt has forced J Sainsbury to pull out of its Egyptian operations after two years. The Supermarket, which denies any involvement with Israel, is to sell its 100 supermarkets and neighbourhood stores in the greater Cairo area to its minority local partner, subject to regulatory approval.

Many department stores in Britain last year yielded to the pressure of the boycott lobby and temporarily removed goods made by Israel from their shops, however these policies have been short-lived. Selfridges, which had seen weekly pickets held outside its doors, withdrew goods produced in the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories over the Christmas period; however, they returned them a fortnight later after protests from Jewish customers. The Store later told The Muslim News: “We do not feel we can take sides in this political issue.”

Harrods, the largest department store in London, whose owner is the Egyptian Muhammad Al Fayed, also removed products made in the Occupied Territories; however, they were re-instated a week later. Instead the store has adopted a sticker policy informing people where products are made. “By giving our customers this extra information, we are allowing them to make a more considered purchase based on their own beliefs and philosophy,” justified Peter Willasey, the Communications Head of Harrods, to The Muslim News.

American multi-national companies have been greatly affected by the boycott campaign, many have seen their sales fall by between 20 and 50 percent since the second intifadah, 19 months ago. Many have tried to win back customers by offering to donate 20 percent of their profits to Palestinian orphans, while also advertising in local newspapers and television channels saying the boycott campaign is hurting local workers. Many have simply denied any connection to or funding of Israel or its actions.

“Coca-Cola, which has served the Israeli market for 30 years, refused to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel (which lasted until 1991). For decades, this cost Coca-Cola the opportunity to sell its products in Arab countries,” explained The Southern Shofar, the Jewish newspaper of Alabama. Coca Cola and its Chairman Roberto Goizueta was honoured by the Economic Mission at the Israel Trade Award Dinner.

However, the Company denies any such involvement, a spokesperson told The Muslim News: “The Coca-Cola Company does not support political or religious causes and does not take a stance on issues that do not directly affect the soft drink industry. We cannot and do not take the side of one country over another in any dispute.”

Other multi-national companies have also hit back against allegations of economic support. Marks and Spencer, who supports Israel with $233 million in trade every year (Jerusalem Report, June 5, 2000), and sells $240 million worth of Israeli exports annually, told The Muslim News: “People are free to buy merchandise from anywhere, however the benefit from buying from us is that we clearly label the origin of the product, allowing people to make an informed decision.”

In a book on Marks and Spencer, Lord Marcus Sieff - long time Chairman of Marks and Spencer - wrote that one of the fundamental objectives of Marks and Spencer is to aid the economic development of Israel (Management: The Marks & Spencer Way, Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1990).

In 1998, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, of Nestlé, received the Jubilee Award by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is the highest tribute ever awarded by the State of Israel in recognition of those individuals and organizations that, through their investments and trade relationships, have done the most to strengthen the Israeli economy. Nestle has bought a controlling share in the Israeli firm Osem, allowing Nestle to sell its products in Israel, including Nescafe, Perrier, Carnation, Smarties and Kitkat. In a recent report to investors, Osem-Nestle announced a four-monthly profit of £5.1m (Independent, June 14).

Nestlé, which has already been subjected to criticism over its dealings with newborn mothers in the developing world and its promotion of its baby milk products, including Nido, is now the subject of further fury, with regards its trade with Israel. In its defence a spokesperson told The Muslim News: “We invest in Israel as we do in any other country.

Nestlé is a commercial company; we do not make economic decisions based on political grounds. We want to keep up with the global market as do our competitors.”

The US companies which are taking the brunt of the boycott in the Muslim world include Nestle, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Burger King, Starbucks shops, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Earlier this month, Proctor and Gamble had decided to close down its factory in Yemen after a media campaign alleging its support for Israel. However, the Company said the closure was due to downturn of the economy.

Goods produced by Israel can be identified by their bar codes, which start with 729, while American goods’ bar codes start with 00 all the way to 09.
Many Palestinian, Muslim and other organizations, including the Scottish TUC, back the campaign.

Additional reporting Sadiqa Abdulla