The Palestinian boycotts movement needs to be more targeted

Two banners with the Starbucks and Mcdonalds logos crossed out, representing solidarity with the Palestinian boycott movement

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

Over the past several months, awareness surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict has reached a level that’s nearly unheard of. Thanks to the efforts of activists on platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram, thousands of people have become aware of the difficulties Palestinian people have been facing for years. While this newfound push for action is no doubt welcome, some of the calls for boycotts have ranged from confusing to unrealistic. If these boycott movements aren’t more targeted, they run the risk of running out of steam and being ineffective.

These calls to action come from a good place, to be sure. Many who previously had no strong investment in the Palestinian cause have bravely stepped up to take on massive companies like Disney. At UH, activists have been able to push resolutions through student senate asking the University to cease their involvement with weapons manufacturers and companies more indirectly involved in supporting the Israeli government, such as Starbucks and McDonalds.

While many of these actions generate big headlines, it’s hard to tell how much of an impact they have in the long run. For example, the SGA resolution to remove Starbucks and McDonalds from campus is an impressive show of solidarity with Palestine on the part of the student body. But how likely is the University to actually follow through and cancel their contracts with these companies?

Starbucks and McDonalds are massive corporations, and it can be difficult to convince even the most sympathetic members of the University administration why they should take such a drastic measure. This is made even more challenging by how indirect  the connections between these companies and the Israeli government are. While they’re undoubtedly involved in the ongoing genocide to some degree, one can easily point to dozens of other companies that are also involved somewhere down the line.

So, is there nothing average people can do to show their solidarity? Is boycotting pointless? For the answer, one should look to the BDS movement, one of the oldest unified pushes by activists looking to meaningfully act in solidarity with Palestine.

The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement has been a crucial part of Pro-Palestine activism since 2005, when 170 different organizations decided to come together and draw up an official list of companies to boycott. The current list of boycott targets includes large international companies like Hewlett Packard as well as smaller, Israeli-owned companies like Sabra Hummus.

These boycott targets are not picked casually. Each company on the BDS list was picked because of their direct involvement with the Israeli government’s efforts to suppress Palestinians. For example, HP was chosen because they work on biometric systems that are used in Israeli checkpoints. Sabra Hummus was picked because their parent company provides direct financial support to the Israeli army.

Companies like these are chosen for boycotts because their involvement is much more direct and much easier to explain to a casual observer than massive companies like Starbucks and McDonalds. More than that, however, they’re chosen because focusing directly on these specific companies allows for the boycott movement to be specific and potentially have a greater level of impact.

The official BDS website states: “For our movement to have real impact we need our consumer boycotts to be easy to explain, have wide appeal and the potential for success…While we call for divestment from all companies implicated in Israel’s human rights violations, we focus our boycott campaigns on a select few strategic targets.”

This kind of approach also serves to keep people from spending all their time and energy trying to boycott dozens of companies, which can quickly lead to burnout. It’s much easier to convince potentially interested parties to give up buying from Puma, SodaStream and Siemens than to try and completely change every aspect of how they shop and consume products.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been going on for decades, and it’s not likely to let up any time soon. Activism is a marathon, not a sprint, after all. Successes like the most recent SGA resolution should be celebrated, but the path to freedom is long and winding.

If you’re the kind of person who genuinely has the means to maintain boycotts of dozens of companies, then by all means do it. But if you’re starting to feel exhausted already, consider taking a look at the BDS website and see if any of the eight listed companies is easier for you to boycott. Don’t feel ashamed, either. Everyone has a part to play, and freedom is won not through shame, but through solidarity.

Malachi Key is a journalism senior who can be reached at [email protected]

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