At the height of Israel’s incessant pounding on hapless Gazans, the boycott of Israeli products is in full swing, mainly in Muslim-majority countries. Outlets of targeted products are losing clientele as well as slashing jobs. Customers are voting with their feet. At home, Pakistanis are boycotting Israeli products despite being unfamiliar with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) ideology.
Historically, Israel has faced several bouts of economic boycotts starting from its birth, mainly emanating from Arab countries. Nonetheless, in the 1990s, the ice thawed somewhat after the Oslo Accords.
Then again, the BDS movement, inspired by anti-Apartheid measures in South Africa, got traction in 2004 when over 170 organisations joined hands to give a non-violent shut-up call to Israel through economic and cultural boycotts. BDS aimed to coerce Israel to comply with international humanitarian standards. Though not an institutionalised response, the movement gained momentum over time.
According to the think tank Rand Corporation, BDS, along with sanctions, cost Israel around $15 billion, three per cent of GDP, over a decade. Similarly, the same boycott also cost Palestine’s GDP $2.4 billion. This loss was around 12pc of Palestine’s total GDP, ironically, 3.5 times higher than Israel’s. In the long run, BDS hurt Palestine more than Israel, considering the intertwined nature of both economies.
How can a Pakistani freelancer consider signing off from Fiverr, a freelance platform based in Tel Aviv, which ensures bread and butter for her family?
This equation has a learning point for us too. A cautious look at the present picture portends a gloomy outlook for Pakistan’s economic landscape far before its ramifications reach Israel. Let’s extrapolate the situation.
Firstly, Pakistan does not have any trade relationship with Israel. Most of the targeted companies are not originally operating in Pakistan. Instead, the local businesses that are paying royalties to use brand names are being hit.
Most of such ventures are organic and regional. For example, the targeted fast food and beverage brands are global chains, but their local branches are operated autonomously. The brands are all set to downsize at the onset of dwindling demand. The mass layoffs will target the already squeaking mid- to low-income societal strata. The alternative home-grown options either lack quality or capacity.
Secondly, Israel’s economy hinges on advanced technology, mainly concentrated in defence, electronics, software, and pharmaceuticals, which is less susceptible to being affected by the boycott. Moreover, repeated bouts of boycott have rendered it battle-hardened. Israeli companies know the art of remaining afloat amid a crisis.
The effective cultural and academic boycott mainly hits segments of Jewish society who oppose government policies. Pure Israeli products are hard to boycott, considering their intricacy with economic sustainability. How can a Pakistani freelancer, in any figment of thought, ponder over signing off from Fiverr, a freelance platform based in Tel Aviv, which ensures bread and butter for her family?
Thirdly, many companies are being targeted as being Jewish rather than Israeli. This is sheer antisemitism and will misconstrue a mainly geographical conflict with a religious one. This notion will open up a new Pandora’s box in a society already devoid of inclusivity or tolerance. Social media is awash with absurdities bordering on hate crimes.
A leading local transportation company is also being pilloried for a proposed boycott on the allegation that it does not comply with the prayer timings during travel. Blind adherence to rage will lead us nowhere.
Ironically, the clarion calls for Jewish product boycotts are being raised on Meta, a platform owned by Mark Zuckerberg. This shows the fundamentalists’ lack of capacity. Even if we are just supposed to draw this conflict on religious lines for a while, considering our technology at hand, the voices will echo no more than a distance farther than a stone’s throw.
Lastly, if history is a guide, the result-oriented economic boycotts were always state-sponsored. The systematic boycott of South Africa by the international community coerced it to scrap the Apartheid. Similarly, the United States sanctions in the 1980s, mainly of technology denial, against the Soviet Union paid off by dismantling the Union into 15 independent states. Similarly, sanctions against Iraq in response to the invasion of Kuwait left the former teetering.
The ones that were perpetuated by groups, sans any state backing, were always found wanting, such as Myanmar’s boycott against Rohingya atrocities, which led to power consolidation of the junta only to incarcerate Aung San Suu Kyi. The unsupervised boycott mantra is no less than mumbo jumbo.
Having said that, protagonists of the boycott term it the only non-violent solution to the atrocities of Israel. They have their own reasons to do so. They also put forth instances like McDonald’s distribution of free meals to the members of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to justify their stance.
In the same vein, no one can push customers to opt in or out against a particular brand. Israeli multinational companies will eventually pressure the political government to refrain from larger conflict considering the steep economic cost, supporters of the boycott suppose.
Nonetheless, the point of concern is the blind following of boycotts sans considering the bigger picture. Potentially, the boycott may inflict more harm than good. Alternatively, an alternate strategy could be a mix of advocacy to state functionaries, open dialogue, leveraging soft power, and opening up diplomatic channels. Widespread boycotts without much afterthought will prove detrimental to our already crumbling economy.
The writer is a contributing columnist.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 11th, 2023