Boycotting Barclays bank in Hitchin (Twitter/ @PSCupdates)

Following Israel’s assault on Gaza, calls to boycott Israeli goods and companies complicit in or seen to support its apartheid regime have been getting louder. On social media, two companies have become the main subject of people’s anger—Starbucks and McDonald’s.

The calls to boycott Starbucks exploded after the company sued US-based union Starbucks Workers United for defamation. The union’s main Twitter account posted a picture of a bulldozer tearing down an apartheid fence in Palestine on 7 October.

Fury at McDonald’s turned into a call for a boycott. The franchise of the fast food restaurant in Israel said it was providing free meals for Israeli soldiers carrying out the massacres in Gaza. It’s all a sign of how the movement is expanding and drawing in sections of society that have not been involved in the Palestine movement before.

But boycotting is about much more than where you drink coffee or eat a burger. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement sets its sights higher. It seeks to target institutions, universities and companies to force them to end their ties with Israel.

Since 2005, the movement, which came from a call from Palestinian civil society, has worked to try and put economic pressure on Israel so that it will comply with international law. It recently forced the sportswear brand Puma to stop sponsoring the Israeli football team.

And constant pressure meant French corporation Veolia withdrew its involvement in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR)—an Israeli rail system built on Palestinian land. The BDS movement plays a part in breaking down attempts of the Israeli state to present itself as a society like any other. And it breaks apart any notion that the apartheid state’s oppression of Palestinians is justified—as it would like the world to believe.

Threat Because of this, the BDS movement is a real threat to leaders in Israel. The racist state funnels millions into trying to crush BDS. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to say that BDS is antisemitic and is on the “wrong side of the moral divide”.

In 2019 it was revealed that the Israeli state has even gone as far as to employ Mossad, its spying squad, to disrupt the growing BDS movement. And the Tories are also taking action against BDS. The new Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill bans public bodies from divesting from Israel.

It passed its third reading in the House of Commons earlier this month. Boycotts can worry our leaders and be a scream of rage against oppressors. They can assure ordinary people that what they do matters and raise the confidence and profile of the international solidarity movement for Palestine.

But boycotts are most effective for this purpose when workers are central to them. Mary Manning, a shop worker at retail chain Dunnes Stores in Ireland, refused to handle the sale of grapefruit from apartheid South Africa in 1984. When management suspended her for not serving a customer, her fellow workers walked out with her.

Their union, Idatu, told all its members that they no longer had to handle goods from South Africa. This act of solidarity and others like it will have lifted South African workers battling apartheid.

Workers in Britain can be involved in actions like this against Israel through BDS activity. If, at the highest level, workers refused to handle arms being sent to Israel to massacre Palestinians, this would send a powerful message to the Arab working class. The movement against Barclays bank is important.

Workers and students should research and target their university’s investments in firms supporting Israel. These acts on their own are not enough to dismantle Israel’s apartheid system. But they can encourage more of the solidarity which can build the movement for Palestine.

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