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Published: Thursday August 14, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday August 14, 2014 MYT 7:11:42 AM

Do the brainwork before pressuring Israel

To be effective in calling for change, there needs to be an organised strategic campaign with an educational component.

THESE are emotional times. My, these are emotional times. Nerves are frayed, amidst grief, tension and a general feeling of loss and depression.

We’ve had a bad year undoubtedly and there’s still more time to go before 2014 is over and we feel trepidation while wondering, what other bad thing will befall us next?

Still, despite all this, there is no reason for us all to lose our minds, to be irrational in the way we react to very important things.

Let me make this clear: what Israel is doing to Gaza is unconscionable and rightly condemned by the whole world.

I also think the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign to increase the economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation and colonisation of Palestinian lands, to give full equality to Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and to respect the right of return of Palestinian refugees, is effective.

However, I do think that most Malaysians do not understand what BDS is all about.

The BDS website makes clear what is meant by boycott, divest and sanction.

“Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions.

“Anyone can boycott Israeli goods, simply by making sure that they don’t buy produce made in Israel or by Israeli companies. Campaigners and groups call on consumers not to buy Israeli goods and on businesses not to buy or sell them.”

The BDS movement is very clear that it is about boycotting Israeli goods.

Now, how many Israeli goods are there in the Malaysian market? Given our stringent laws, probably none.

A burger made in an industrial kitchen in Malaysia is still a Malaysian burger, as is the person making or selling it.

BDS explains “individual consumers can show their opposition to Israel’s violations by participating in a consumer boycott of Israeli companies, goods and services or of international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law.

“A consumer boycott works in two ways: firstly by generating public awareness about Israeli apartheid and occupation as well as international support for it and secondly by applying economic pressure for change.”

Again it emphasises “Israeli companies, goods and services” and “international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law”.

So what Israeli companies, goods and services are available in Malaysia? Where are our oranges and olives from?

One major Israeli fruit juice exporter Priniv has reported that “a deal to export fresh fruit juices to Sweden has been called off after they refused to export the produce in a way that would make it easier to conceal the fact it was produced in Israel.

“Customers in Belgium and France have also made similar requests. Priniv director Ido Yaniv attributed the drop in sales to Israel’s ongoing attack in Gaza”.

There is one Israeli product available here in Malaysia that nobody has called for a boycott of – Waze. Too afraid of getting lost?

Divestment means “targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies.

“These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights”.

What does “complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights” mean? It means investing in the development of arms that are then used to kill Palestinians, for example.

Have we checked whom we buy our military weapons and equipment from?

Finally, sanctions “are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes.

“By calling for sanctions against Israel, campaigners educate society about violations of international law and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations.”

Remember the sanctions against Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power?

Who in Malaysia is calling for the same on Israel?

The point is that to be effective in protesting against Israel and calling for change, some brainwork needs to be done. It is not about standing in front of burger restaurants and yelling at them, much less harassing, threatening and humiliating Malaysian workers.

As the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa has shown, BDS works.

But it needs to be an organised strategic campaign with an educational component. No point in the ignorant capitalising on people’s emotions for their own ends.

Boycotts only work if the targets are clear and the actions have an impact. Does Israel really care if you spat on some poor cashier in KL? I’m afraid not.

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

Tags / Keywords: Marina Mahathir

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