As the dust settles in Gaza and evidence of war crimes arise, people around the world have found a new platform to show their disapproval of Israel’s actions: Buycott, a smartphone application for organizing boycotts.
Created over a year ago by developer Ivan Pardo in California, Buycott lets users create campaigns to support or avoid certain companies depending on the causes they care about. When people join a campaign, they can scan goods at the grocery store with their iPhones or Android devices and see whether they have “personal conflicts” with the producer.
While the first boycott campaigns at Buycott targeted Koch Industries, an American multinational corporation and major funder of the right-wing Tea Party, users can now choose between causes ranging from food (“Demand GMO labeling”), to social responsibility (“Support the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh”) to the environment (“Support our Bees”).
One of the most trending campaigns of this summer, however, has been “Long live Palestine boycott Israel.” With only a few hundred shoppers by mid-July, the campaign now counts over 360,000 shoppers as users. The high jump in users is most likely due to Israel’s intensification of its bombardment of the Gaza Strip during this summer’s Operation Protective Edge and the subsequent, and rather unprecedented, rise in civilian casualties.
“I noticed 3 weeks ago that we were seeing an unusual spike in traffic, but there hadn’t been any articles writtena bout the app or Israel campaigns,” said Pardo in an interview in early August. “Next thing I knew Buycott was a top 10 app in the UK and Netherlands, and #1 in a number of Middle Eastern countries. Word was spreading through social media.”
Scanning to see Israeli products
The five-month old campaign “Long live Palestine boycott Israel” states that it is directed against “companies that are supporting the occupation of Palestine.”
The campaign lists dozens of companies to boycott, among them: Estee Lauder (whose chairman Ronald Lauder is the current president of the Jewish National Fund), Ahava (manufactures products at the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shelem next to the Dead Sea), and Hadiklaim (the biggest date exporter of Israel which operates in the occupied Jordan Valley).
But some calls for boycott are dubious or even outdated. According to the campaign author, Burger King should be avoided for opening a restaurant in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and Garnier for sending care packages to IDF soldiers during the Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
The Israeli franchise of Burger King opened a branch in Ma’ale Adumim in 1999, but after an international Arab and Muslim boycott, decided to close it down in 2012. Garnier, owned by L’Oreal, released a statement condemning the donation of its products for the IDF by a local retailer, who gave the cosmetics for the Israeli StandWithUs advocacy group.
“Long live Palestine boycott Israel” also claims that McDonald’s would have established some of its restaurants on the illegal settlements, although the company turned down an invitation to open a branch at the Ariel settlement in 2013, citing a long-term policy not to operate in the occupied territories.
However, the campaign’s author does not mention that in 2004, McDonalds banned its employees in Israel from speaking Arabic, which is the second official language of the country and spoken by more than 20% of the population. Instead, it required all staff to communicate in Hebrew, including with clients.
“Information must be accurate”
Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement based in Palestine, says phone applications such as Buycott “are quite revolutionary.” According to him, these apps could be essential in spreading the boycott of Israel companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine.
Although many Palestinians have smartphones, Israel has not permitted the Palestinian Authority to set up a 3G network. But even without the ability to scan products at the grocery store, more and more Palestinians are willing to avoid Israeli goods.
“The recent resurrection of the culture of boycotting in response to Israel’s acts of genocide in Gaza is more sustainable than using any app to decide what companies to boycott,” said Barghouti.
Yet, Barghouti admits it is crucial that the apps provide information that is reliable and regularly updated. He says the BDS National Committee (BNC), the Palestinian coalition leading the global BDS movement, is in the process of coordinating with app developers to make sure that the information referenced is accurate.
To boycott settlement products or anything “Made in Israel”?
In addition to “Long live Palestine boycott Israel,” Buycott features a campaign called “Avoid Israeli Settlement Products” with 169,000 members at the time of writing.
According to Barghouti, the BDS movement calls for total isolation of Israel in the academic, cultural, economic and military fields. But BDS, he says, is not a dogma. The BDS National Committee works with a rich diversity of partners all over the world, some of whom are focused entirely on one company only, because of their operations in occupied Palestinian territory, while others go for a full boycott of Israeli institutions.
“We are perfectly fine with both and with everything in between,” he said.
In response to the claim that boycotting settlement products would in turn hurt Palestinian workers, Barghouti argues the real response should be to tackle the roots of underdeveloped Palestinian economy – the occupation –which forces Palestinians to look for jobs in “the illegal colonies.”
“Nothing hurts the Palestinian people and the Palestinian economy like Israel’s racist and colonial oppression,” he said. “Those who claim that BDS hurts Palestinians are not just making unfounded claims and failing to understand how resistance is always costly at first; they are also patronizingly telling Palestinians that they understand our interests better than we do.”
Counter-campaigns call for supporting Israel
After the success of BDS campaigns on Buycott, pro-Israeli initiatives have started to emerge on the app.
“Support Israel and boycott terrorist organizations,” an app created nearly a month ago, now has approximately 10,000 members. The campaign encourages people to buy as many Israeli products as they can, to make sure that the Israeli government does not have to take decisions influenced by the boycott campaign.
Under the list of companies to avoid, the campaign lists three Qatari organizations. The Qatari government is one of the few international supporters of Hamas, and the organization’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, currently lives in exile in Doha.
Another campaign, entitled “Long live Israel boycott her enemies,” demands its 4,300 members to buy products from Ahava and Israeli food giants, among others. The Qatari-based Al Jazeera media network figures first on the “avoid” list.
Yet if the numbers of boycotters registered on the Buycott app are anything to go by, Israeli products are more likely to be left in the store shelves.