CAIRO – 30 November 2023: The ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza has revived the calls for boycotting the companies that have been supporting Israel’s heinous settler colonialism, either financially or by providing services that facilitate their goals to control Palestinians, essentially making their lives harder.
When calling for a boycott, some people might simply abstain, entertaining a very comforting justification that it might have very little to no financial impact on these massive companies, even if it boosts the interest in local products. But why say no to that?
In my opinion, this deliberately ignores that boycotting for a cause is primarily based on an unshakeable sense of belonging to a community that relentlessly fights collective pain and helplessness. This sense of community is, in itself, a gain. It assures us that we are many and that we are standing for what is right, and gives us the opportunity to reveal to others who we are and who we side with.
That being said, the coming examples of boycott campaigns might provide proof why I think we are underestimating the weight of persistent communal efforts.
The verb was first coined in 1880 after its eponym Charles Cunningham Boycott, a retired British captain who was then an estate manager at County Mayo, Ireland. But why was Boycott’s name tied to such a decisive act of resistance?
In 1879, County Mayo was on the brink of a famine due to bad harvests, which urged The Land League that was formed in the same year to ask the estate manager to reduce rents by 25%, a request that Boycott not only refused but also responded to by issuing eviction writs to the tenants. This led Charles Stewart Parnell, the president of The Land League, to mobilize the tenants to adopt the non-violent policy of avoiding any form of communication with those who refused their demands, including Boycott, who had to get farmers from another county to harvest his crops while guarded by soldiers. The tenants’ boycott success culminated in the release of the 1881 William Ewart Gladstone’s Land Act that established fair-rent committees, which changed the conditions in Ireland to the better.
“In my humble opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good," Gandhi.
Throughout his struggle against the British rule, Gandhi used boycott consistently as a form of non-violent, yet active resistance, starting from boycotting the cheap cotton textiles that Britain flooded India with and that killed the small Indian hand-spinning and weaving businesses to urging Indians to withdraw their children from British schools, boycott their courts, quit their government jobs, and continue to refuse to buy British cloth, which was one of Britain’s biggest economic interests in India.
The fight against the British colonial rule in India was a very long one; however, it was a fight that we know ended in independence and boycott was an effective fighting tool.
“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right,” Rosa Parks.
When Rosa parks, an African American woman, was arrested and fined for refusing to give up her seat for a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, a boycott campaign against the city buses, led by Martin Luther King Jr., was launched four days later to protest segregation. This boycott lasted a little over a year and cost Parks her job, but ended in the US Supreme Court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.
This mere spark of resistance also helped initiate the civil rights movement in the US and brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the spotlight as a significant social activist and one of the most important leaders of the American civil rights movement.
“Money won't create success, the freedom to make it will,” Nelson Mandela.
The South African liberation movements systematized one of the most successful boycott experiences that reached international levels with the 1986 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act that enforced economic sanctions against the apartheid regime that long oppressed and discriminated against the people of South Africa. These wide boycott movements eventually forced the apartheid regime to negotiate with Nelson Mandela, opening doors for political participation for all.
“The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa,” Naomi Klein.
The idea of a boycott for Palestine materialized with the second Intifada when the Committee of the Egyptian Solidarity with the Palestinian People’s Intifada was founded in 2000 to raise awareness on ways people can boycott and donate to support the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom.
This was followed by numerous boycott movements, the most important of which is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which was established in 2005 by 170 Palestinian unions and parties to create an organized boycott campaign that is effective across the Arab region and the world. The boycott mainly aims to end Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid, and to respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
Thanks to the BDS campaigns, foreign direct investments in Israel dropped by 46% following the 2014 Israeli aggression on Gaza. In addition, some of the companies that were boycotted after proven to be directly or indirectly involved in the occupation’s crimes against the Palestinians began to completely withdraw their investments from Israel to mitigate losses from the boycott campaigns, including HP, Veolia, and most recently Allied Universal that withdrew investments from Israel in 2023.
To boycott oppression, its products, and its allies is to help labeling the oppressors as the terrorists that should be isolated. It does not magically end all the suffering and alter the status quo, but it serves as a persistent reminder of the stigma that shall chase all tyrannical usurpers, slowly draining the