The sportswear company Puma is the main sponsor of the Israel Football Association (IFA), which includes six football teams based in Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank.
It is the only major international company to sponsor the IFA, having replaced Adidas when it pulled out in 2018.
In 2019, over 200 Palestinian football teams wrote a letter to Puma, calling on it to end its sponsorship, pointing out that it is lending legitimacy to the settlements and to Israeli human rights abuses.
These include abuses of Palestinian footballers who have been killed, denied travel permits meaning that tournaments have been canceled and, in 2012, Israeli jets destroyed the Palestinian Football Stadium. Between 2009 and 2012 Palestinian striker Mahmoud Al Sarsak was held without charge in Israeli jails.
Israeli authorities accused him of terrorism, but couldn’t supply any evidence, and many believe that he was targeted simply for being a footballer. He was tortured, and only released after a 3-month hunger strike and an international campaign.
The campaign against Puma
Shortly after the football teams’ letter to Puma was published, activists occupied a Puma outlet in Manchester. The live stream of the event was watched over a million times, and inspired other actions across the UK and the world, with coordination from the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
June 15th, 2019 was the first international day of action, with over 50 actions in 20 countries. Activists in the UK occupied Puma stores, outlets, and offices and tweeted under the hashtag #BoycottPuma.
Over 10 prominent football teams in the UK have sponsorship deals with Puma. But after a targeted campaign by UK and international activists, Liverpool and Chester FCs did not renew their contracts with Puma.
Lockdown hasn’t stopped the campaign. May 4th was the Puma Annual General Meeting and the third international day of action. The UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign encouraged hundreds to phone jam the Puma HQ, and tens of thousands of emails were sent in. Social media actions happened around the world.
In a chance encounter with an activist, a Puma attorney recently admitted, “you’re making our lives miserable.”
The mobilisation has echoed the successful consumer and sporting boycotts of apartheid South Africa in the 70s and 80s, which showed their power to tackle systems of oppression and apartheid and to bring about real change.
Efforts to end complicity with Israel’s oppressive regime will continue to grow until Israel respects international law and Palestinians are granted their rights.
Huda Ammori is a British human rights activist and campaigner with Palestinian and Iraqi heritage. She is a leading voice in the UK-Palestine solidarity movement and recently launched Apartheid Off Campus, a new project rallying to challenge university ties with unethical companies.