Boycott as a gesture

November 26, 2023

Social media has become a battlefield for digital boycott over Gaza

Boycott as a gesture


powerful movement in response to the ongoing Israeli atrocities in Gaza has turned social media into a virtual battlefield. This grassroots movement, sparked by the recent escalation of violence in Gaza, has transcended geographical boundaries, uniting individuals and organisations in a shared commitment to show solidarity with the oppressed Palestinians. Hashtags like #boycottisraelbrands and #FreeGaza have become rallying cries, galvanising support and spreading awareness. Images and videos depicting the harsh realities faced by Gazans, including the destruction of homes and the tragic loss of civilian lives, are circulating and stirring a collective desire for an immediate end to the violence.

The recent surge in calls for boycotting Israeli products is rooted in the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a non-violent, globally-coordinated campaign that advocates for economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories, dismantle its illegal settlements and ensure equal rights for its Palestinian citizens.

The BDS traces its origins to the South African anti-apartheid movement, which employed economic sanctions to isolate and pressure the oppressive regime. Inspired by its success, Palestinian civil society organisations developed the BDS framework in 2005, calling on individuals, institutions and governments to sever economic ties with Israel until it complies with international law and human rights norms. The current wave of boycotts, fuelled by the ongoing conflict, can be seen as an extension of the broader BDS movement. Social media has played a crucial role in mobilising support and disseminating information about the boycott, allowing individuals worldwide to join the movement and take action.

In the past, the Arab economic boycott of Israel aimed to isolate Israel economically and politically. This boycott had far-reaching consequences, especially evident in sectors like the automobile market. During the period of strict enforcement, major international automobile manufacturers, particularly from Japan and Korea, were barred from entering the Israeli market. This restriction led to limited choices for consumers and higher prices. The economic impact of the boycott was significant. According to an analysis by economists Fershtman and Gandal, the loss to Israeli consumers was estimated at approximately $790 per automobile purchaser in 1994.

As the Middle East began inching towards peace, enforcement of the boycott relaxed, marking a pivotal shift in Israel’s economy. This relaxation allowed the entry of these international manufacturers into the Israeli market, injecting much-needed competition. This shift transformed the market dynamics drastically, expanding consumer choice and driving down prices due to the newfound competition. The loss turned into a gain estimated at over $89 million. The change was part of the “peace dividend” that followed the easing of economic sanctions and improved political relations.

The boycott movement traces its origins to the South African anti-apartheid movement, which employed economic sanctions to isolate and pressure the oppressive regime. Inspired by its success, Palestinian civil society organisations developed a similar framework in 2005.

Similar economic impacts may be anticipated if the boycott appeals currently doing the rounds get a similar response. These boycotts could potentially restrict market access for Israeli products and limit foreign investment. The automobile market, among others, could face challenges if major players choose or are compelled to limit their operations in Israel. Just as the previous boycott shaped Israel’s economic landscape, the future boycotts may similarly influence the economic dynamics in various sectors, highlighting the complex interplay between political actions and economic repercussions.

The economic impact of Arab countries’ boycott of Israeli products, historically enforced by the Arab League, had revealed a complex interplay of trade, costs and diplomatic relations. Specific data on the direct economic impacts is limited, but the overarching trends indicate significant implications. For countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, strict adherence to the boycott meant forfeiting direct trade opportunities with Israel, a country with advanced technology and agriculture sectors. This not only resulted in lost trade but also potentially higher costs for these countries, as they had to source the products from farther afield, often at a higher price. The boycott also had an impact on their domestic industries, which in some cases were stimulated to develop alternatives to Israeli products, though did not always become competetive. Diplomatically, the boycott reinforced ties with nations sharing a similar stance but strained relations with those allied with Israel.

Pakistan’s boycott of Israeli products, despite its large population, presents a unique case due to the lack of direct trade relations between the two countries. Given this absence of formal economic ties, the direct impact of such a boycott on Israel’s economy maybe negligible. However, its symbolic significance will be substantial. For Pakistan, the boycott is more a reflection of its foreign policy than an economic measure with direct financial repercussions. The lack of prior trade relations also means that the boycott’s impact on Pakistan’s economy will be minimal in terms of trade disruption. The boycott, therefore, will be a significant political gesture without limited tangible economic consequences for both nations.

Efforts to economically weaken Israel through boycotts may not yield substantial results, given Israel’s ability to find alternative markets. However, the larger issue is the profound impact of Israel’s actions in Palestinian territories on its relations with the Muslim world. Its continued expansion of settlements in Palestinian territory and reported human rights violations, particularly the recent events in Gaza involving civilian casualties and the destruction of infrastructure, have significantly strained Arab-Israeli relations. The fallout from these events extends beyond diplomatic and economic realms into the collective consciousness of the Muslim world. In light of these developments, the prospect of a negotiated settlement, which already faces numerous obstacles, appears to be an even more distant dream. The situation underscores the complexity of the conflict, where economic measures like boycotts are overshadowed by the profound implications of ongoing territorial disputes and humanitarian concerns.

The writer is an associate professor in the Department of Economics at COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore Campus

Boycott as a gesture