The boycott campaign against Western companies and products that support Israel is sweeping across the Arab world. The campaign was launched on social media, where it has gained momentum since the outbreak of the Israeli war against the Palestinians in Gaza, described by many as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”. More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel so far, most of them children and women.
In a Bahraini store, for example, 14-year-old Jana carried a tablet while shopping with her mother, so that she can refer to a list of Western products in order to avoid buying them while the Israeli attacks on Gaza continue. Jana and her ten-year-old brother Ali ate at McDonald’s regularly before the attacks on Gaza, but they have joined many in the Middle East in a campaign to boycott major international products and companies that support or profit from Israel.
“We started boycotting all products that support Israel out of solidarity with the Palestinians,” explained Jana. “We do not want our money to contribute to more bloodshed.” She noted that she is looking for local alternatives to the products that support Israel, especially American products.
The boycott campaign has been accompanied by calls for Arab countries to sever ties with Israel. Several countries in the Middle East are witnessing weekly demonstrations in solidarity with the people in Gaza.
Turkiye and Jordan have recalled their ambassadors to Tel Aviv, while South Africa summoned its diplomats for consultations. Colombia, Chile and Bolivia have all severed diplomatic ties with the occupation state. In Bahrain, which normalised its relations with Israel in 2020, the House of Representatives announced the “cessation” of economic relations with Israel, but the government did not confirm this.
Calls for the boycott made by young, tech-savvy individuals have spread, with websites and apps listing products to boycott being launched, as well as a Google Chrome extension called PalestinePact, which hides adverts for products that are on the boycott list.
Traditional methods are also being used, with billboards seen in Kuwait with pictures of children covered in blood. The photos were accompanied by the shocking “Did you kill a Palestinian today?” alongside the hashtag #boycotters. The message is directed at consumers who have not yet joined the boycott campaign.
Mishari Al-Ibrahim is a member of the Boycott the Zionist Entity Movement in Kuwait. “Western reactions after the violence against Gaza strengthened the spread of the boycott in Kuwait, and created a mental image among Kuwaitis that the West’s promotion of human rights does not include us,” he said. “The boycott is clear so far, the reactions of brand representatives inside the country confirm the campaign’s impact.”
The McDonald’s restaurant chain has found itself to be a prime target. Last month, McDonald’s Israel branch announced that it had provided thousands of free meals to the Israeli army, which sparked the anger of the Arab public and fuelled calls for a boycott. The company’s sales across the Arab world have been affected badly.
Boycotts have an impact. In Qatar, some Western companies were forced to close after their management published pro-Israel content on social media. The branches of the American café Pura Vida Miami and the French pastry shop Maitre Choux closed their doors in Doha last month.
In Egypt, the Egyptian carbonated drinks company Spiro Spathis, which wasn’t very popular before, has now become extremely popular as an alternative to Pepsi and Coca-Cola, after calls to boycott both. The company, which was founded in 1920, published a statement on its Facebook page stating that it had received more than 15,000 CVs when it announced that it was hiring extra staff in order to expand its activities given the higher demand for its products.
In Jordan, posts have spread on social media referring to brands supporting Israel with the slogan “Do not contribute to the price of their bullets”. In a store in the capital, Amman, Abu Abdullah looked carefully at a bottle of milk, telling his four-year-old son Abdullah, “This is good, it is from Tunisia. This is the least we can do for our brothers in Gaza. We must boycott.”