Israel Boycott

"When you do business with Israel, you invariably do business with the Occupation."- Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign spokesperson, 2006.

Image: Israel Boycott BDS

What is the BDS Movement?

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is a crucial civil society intervention aimed at exerting economic pressure on Israel, de-legitimising the country as an apartheid state, and harming the incomes of the companies that are complicit its activities.

In 2005 Palestinian civil society issued a call for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights”.  It was endorsed by more than 150 Palestinian groups and is a non-violent tactic.  

The three-pronged approach operates at multiple levels: from individual consumers to institutional investors to states.  It presents an opportunity for the international community to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and military aggression against the Palestinian people.

Top 10 BDS Campaign Consumer Boycott Targets

 1.  Agricultural products from the settlements

In the West Bank the fertile, occupied Jordan Valley is key farmland for Israel, with illegal agro-industrial settlements spread across kilometres of land and taking vast quantities of water.  Adjacent to the settlements Palestinians often live in little more than plastic and wooden shacks, with very restricted access to water and forbidden from constructing homes, which are routinely demolished by the Israeli military.

Europe is the prime destination for Israeli agricultural products from the Jordan Valley and Carmel Agrexco was the biggest exporter until it went into liquidation in 2011.  It was subsequently bought by the Bickel group and has retained its brands (including Carmel) and regained contracts with a number of growers.  Today it is active in a number of settlements in the Jordan Valley and also exports produce from Palestinian growers in the West Bank and Gaza.

Other brands of fresh fruit and vegetables which may have been sourced from the settlements include: AdaFreshKedem HadarimMehadrin and Terra.

It is often not possible to distinguish between Israeli products that have been grown in settlements and those from within Israel's 1967 borders.  Products have been photographed in packing houses in the Jordan Valley with 'Produce of Israel' labels.  The safest strategy is to avoid all Israeli fresh produce.

2.  Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories

Cosmetics company Ahava manufactures products made from minerals extracted from the Dead Sea. According to Who Profits, an Israeli organisation that monitors corporate involvement in the settlements, the mud it uses is excavated from occupied Palestinian land in contravention of international law.

Ahava's factory and visitors' centre are located in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley but it is falsely stated on the packaging that Ahava products are manufactured in Israel.  The company is partially owned by Mitzpe Shalem and another settlement called Kalia.  Profits from the company thereby directly help to sustain the occupation.  In September 2015 it was announced that a majority stake in the company would be sold, likely to the Chinese investment company Fosun.

Image: Ahava Stolen Beauty Boycott
Ahava Code Pink Campaign calling on Bed, Bath & Bryond to stop selling Ahava, Flickr.

Ahava is the target of the Stolen Beauty campaign, which was launched by anti-militarism activists Code Pink in 2009. Ahava's Covent Garden shop was plagued by demonstrations and legal challenges by pro-Palestinian activists until it closed its doors in 2011. The company now no longer has a commercial premises in the UK and few if any retailers will stock its products. But they can be bought online, on Amazon for example.

You can sign the Ahava Boycott Pledge and access other campaign materials here

Reports covering Ahava's activities are available from Who ProfitsB'tselem and Al Haq, which has also produced a virtual field visit.

3.  Ben and Jerry's

Unilever subsidiary Ben and Jerry's has an Israeli franchise that manufactures ice cream in Israel and sells it in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  As a result Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel began discussions with the company in 2011.  A campaign went public in 2013, since which time thousands of individuals and 239 organisations in 20 countries have called on Ben & Jerry’s to put an end to its franchise’s business in Israeli settlements.  

A decision to call a boycott of the company was taken in 2014 during the Israeli attacks on Gaza:

While this massacre of innocents was being carried out, Ben & Jerry’s “peace & love” ice cream was passing through Israeli checkpoints, being transported on Jewish-only roads, and being sold to supermarkets and for catered events in Jewish-only settlements.

No Justice, No Sweets

4.  BT

BT has a significant commercial relationship with Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq International.  According to Who Profits, Bezeq has built telecommunications infrastructure throughout the West Bank and Golan Heights and provides services to all the Israeli settlements, as well as checkpoints and army bases, in the occupied Palestinian territories.  

Bezeq subsidiary Pelephone Communications provides mobile communication services to Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. Another subsidiary, YES, provides satellite broadcasting services to some of the checkpoints and to all Israeli settlements.

BT announced in 2010 that Beqez had “joined the BT Alliance programme with a Gold Partner status”2 and BT EMEA President went on Israeli television to promote the partnership.  

A boycott campaign calling on BT to “disconnect now” and “hang up on the occupation” ensued, supported by a coalition of groups including War on Want, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Amos Trust. BT refused to sever its ties with Bezeq, claiming “Suggestions that BT activities in Israel make the company complicit in breaches of international law and human rights are ill-founded.”

As of November 2015 BT still listed Bezeq as a BT Alliance Partner on its website.

Image: BT Website Israel Boycott
Screenshot from BT website

5.  Caterpillar, Inc.

The world's number one manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, Caterpillar, also sells a range of branded merchandise, including boots, clothes and toys.  Caterpillar equipment is used extensively by the Israeli military; most notoriously, its D9 armoured bulldozers.  

“Without selling a single bomb, gun or F16 fighter, Caterpillar has been supplying the Israeli military with its “key weapon”, in the words one Israeli commander”, according to an article on the Electronic Intifada website. D-9 bulldozers have been used to destroy “agricultural farms, greenhouses, ancient olive groves.. numerous Palestinian homes and sometimes human lives”, said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

One such life was that of 23 year old American peace activist Rachel Corrie, killed by a D9 bulldozer in 2003 as she stood in front of a Palestinian house in Gaza that was about to be destroyed.  Her family subsequently filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming that it was liable for Rachel's death as it had sold Israel bulldozers knowing they would be used in violation of international law.  

The case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; the bulldozers had been paid for by the USA and “a ruling on the merits would also be a judicial opinion about important aspects of US foreign policy”. This “should be decided on by the executive branch of the government, not the judiciary, the Court reasoned.”

Pictures of D9 armoured bulldozers appear on the heels of Caterpillar shoes, which are sold in UK high streets at shops including Schuh.  This has made the retailer also a target of pro-Palestinian campaigns.  Other outlets which sell Caterpillar products (some complete with D9 imagery) include DebenhamsSole TraderBarratts and Sports Direct.

Image: UK Stores Catepillar boycott Israel
War on Want
UK stores selling Catepillar products

War on Want's alternative report on Caterpillar provides a chilling account of an Israel soldier's 75 hour rampage in a D9 bulldozer in Jenin in 2002.  "I had no mercy for anybody. I would erase anyone with the D9 ...When I was told to bring down a house, I took the opportunity to bring down some more houses...They were warned by loudspeaker to get out of the house before I came, but I gave no one a chance. I didn’t wait. I didn’t give one blow and wait for them to come out. I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as fast as possible."

 6.  The Coca-Cola Company

The Israeli company that has held the Coca Cola franchise in Israel since 1967, the Central Bottling Company (CBC), has a regional distribution centre in an industrial zone in the Israeli settlement of Atarot which it operates through its subsidiary the Central Company for Sales and Distribution.

CBC also owns Tabor Winery, which owns vineyards vineyards in the occupied Golan Heights.  In addition, through its subsidiary Tara (Milco Industries), CBC owns approximately 81% of Meshek Zuriel Dairy (81%), which has a dairy farm and head office in a settlement in the Jordan Valley. 

Due to its commercial relationship to CBC, The Coca-Cola Company is also the subject of the Israel boycott.  In July 2015 the National Union of Students voted to censure its president for accepting a sponsorship deal from Coca-Cola for its annual awards ceremony, in violation of the boycott, which it adopted as a policy in August 2014.

According to an NUS statement:

There is… a clear, direct line of accountability whereby Coca Cola, through its operations in Israel, is active within illegally occupied territory, in the process keeping occupation a viable exercise for the Israeli state. The responsibility thus lies on NUS to implement its policy and break ties with the company until it at the very least ends complicity in the Israeli occupation.

7. Hewlett-Packard 

Hewlett-Packard is one of the top arms-producing companies in the world and has an extensive number of contracts with the Israeli state. It owns the company which developed the BASEL system, in use at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, which controls Palestinian movement through a system of ID cards and biometric information.  

HP has also maintains the IT infrastructure of the Israeli navy, which imposes a naval blockade of the Gaza strip, and provides and maintains computer equipment for the Israeli prison service, which stands accused of human rights abuses including the detention and torture of children.

You can visit the Palestine Solidarity Campaign website to sign a pledge to boycott Hewlett-Packard.

8. J Sainsburys plc 

Sainsbury's sells a range of Israeli fresh fruit and vegetables, some of which are from companies active in Israeli settlements.  The Sainsbury's: Taste the Indifference campaign was launched in 2013 and calls on the company to “cease all trade with companies complicit in the colonisation of Palestinian land”.  

The Co-operative and Marks and Spencer have stated that they will not trade in products from Israeli settlements and the Co-operative's policy extends to trading with companies that trade with the settlements. No other British supermarkets have taken a stance on either settlement products or companies.  Sainsbury's was selected as a campaign target as it is seen as 'winnable' - the company promotes its ethical and Fairtrade credentials and is a founder member of the Ethical Trading Initiative. 

Local groups across the UK have been organising around Sainsbury’s stores, speaking with and leafleting customers and collecting signatures on petitions and postcards. The company's shareholders received an open letter from Corporate Watch in 2014 and its CEO received an open letter from several Members of Parliament and the European Parliament and representatives of a number of groups including Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and War on Want.  Protests have been held both inside and outside its AGM. 

9.  SodaStream International

Its decision to relocate the plant to the Rahat area in the Naqab (Negev) desert in Israel is, however, also highly controversial. The Israeli government has long-standing policies to force the Bedioun communities of the Naqab off of their traditional lands and into “authorised” townships.  The 2011 Prawer Plan aimed to displace at least 40,000 people and, although it was officially put on hold in 2013, it seems that it will still be carried out in a modified form.  Tens of thousands of Palestinians live in unrecognized villages in the Naqab and are denied basic services such as electricity, water and education. 

"Far from reducing its direct contribution to human rights abuses, SodaStream’s factory in the Rahat area in the Naqab (Negev) amounts to conscious participation in Israel’s plans to ethnically cleanse tens of thousands of Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel from their ancestral lands," The BDS National Committee told Ethical Consumer. The boycott of the company continues. 

10. The Strauss Group

The Strauss Group is Israel's second biggest food company and has been identified as a target of the BDS movement as a result of its support for two notorious Israeli military units, Golani and Givati. These brigades committed atrocities during Israel's 2009-10 deadly assault on Gaza. Their members have been known to use horrific imagery on t-shirts, such as a pregnant Palestinian woman in a sniper's cross-hairs, with the slogan “one shot, two kills”.  

The company has previously claimed to have "adopted” the two platoons and provided the soldiers with food and personal care packages.  It has removed and reposted information on its website regarding its support for the Israeli military and the status of its current support is unclear.

The Strass Group part-owns Sabra Hummus, which is sold by retailers in the UK including Sainsburys and Tesco. Sabra is also owned by PepsiCo, which manufactures Sabra products in the USA. The companies also jointly own a company licensed to produce Frito Lay products in Israel. 

The Strauss Group also has a partnership with French yoghurt makers Danone; it manufactures and markets Danone products in Israel.  

In 2011 the company signed an agreement with the Virgin Group which saw the formation of a new company, Virgin Strauss Water, that markets Strauss water dispensers under the brand Virgin Pure.