How to boycott your next-door neighbor

Jordan’s BDS movement seeks to put pressure on Israeli corporations and allies

A protester raises a sign reading “down with the gas deal”
A protester raises a sign reading “down with the gas deal” during an anti-Israel protest on May 15, 2021, in Amman’s Rabieh neighborhood, near the Israeli embassy. (Photo: Ameer Khalifa/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Last month’s Israeli war against Gaza, amid the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, brought a new wave of Jordanians into an international movement: the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.اضافة اعلان

The BDS movement has been traced to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, at which Palestinian activists met with South African anti-apartheid activists, who encouraged them to mimic their boycott campaigns. The boycotts started within academic circles, with calls to boycott Israeli academic events and institutions.

Then, in 2005, BDS was officially founded and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) established as its coordinating body.

The movement calls for a boycott of certain companies based in or affiliated with Israel to pressure Israel to meet its three core demands: “Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the (separation) Wall,” “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” and “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

“Of course, people want to know more and more, especially after the recent Gaza war,” said Ruqayya, an organizer working with Jordan’s BDS chapter, in an interview with Jordan News.

She explained that the organization targets a small list of companies in order to maximize its impact. It prioritizes not just Israeli companies, but companies that operate in illegal settlements in the West Bank or who contribute in specific ways to Israeli occupation. “We aim for a compressed, concentrated ban to make a long-term impact,” she said.

“The companies are chosen according to multiple indicators and criteria, after long-term research,” but some activists go beyond BDS’s concise list to boycott other corporations with ties to Israel as well, or even boycott all Israeli companies and products altogether, according to the activist.

Current BDS targets include AXA, which invests in Israeli banks; Hewlett Packard, which runs Israel’s biometric ID system; Puma, which sponsors the Israel Football Association, including teams on illegal settlements; SodaStream, which operates in settlements; Ahava, which also operates in a settlement; Sabra, which is owned by Israeli food conglomerate the Strauss Group; Pillsbury, which operates on settlements; and Israeli fruits and vegetables.

Ruqayya explained that a few years ago, BDS launched a campaign encouraging Jordanians to ask supermarkets and grocery stores about the origin of their fruits and vegetables. “It’s their right to know,” she said.

She pointed out that alternatives are plentiful; “the supermarkets have a lot of brands that are either Palestinian, Jordanian or international.”

“I think it’s really easy” to find alternatives to products on the BDS list, she said.

Similarly, 23-year-old school counselor Jude Hashem told Jordan News that “there are replacements for everything.”

As a silver lining for her commitment to BDS, Hashem found that “small companies have amazing products that are so much better than those large corporations.”

“It’s just been such a joy to discover these things and know that not only are you not being complicit in an apartheid regime, you’re also helping out local businesses that deserve the recognition and support.”

Hashem, who said that even growing up her family members encouraged her to boycott certain companies, said that her commitment to boycotting Israeli products has only grown. “Now that I work and have my own income, I definitely feel a sense of responsibility in terms of where my money goes. Now I actively research and keep myself updated on what companies I need to be boycotting. As soon as I find out, even if I have been using it, I immediately cut it out.”

According to Hashem, one of the key strengths of BDS is its international appeal. The Palestinian-led organization has chapters and partner groups across the world, including 200 chapters in the United States alone.

“If it was only Palestinians placing pressure — we’re not enough to put pressure on all these large corporations and cause real change,” she said. “That’s not because we aren’t strong enough, but sometimes we just get ignored. People don’t listen to our voices.”

Complex economic entanglement

In addition to stocking Israeli fruits and vegetables, or pints of ice cream from corporations like Ben and Jerry’s that operate on illegal settlements, Jordan also has a more complex economic entanglement with Israel, through the gas deal and other aspects of the Wadi Araba peace treaty.

During last month’s protests, BDS, among throngs of protesters called for the cancellation of Jordan’s gas and water deals with Israel. Just last week, the group orchestrated a campaign to “cut the lights'' to apply pressure on the Jordanian government to end the gas deal with Israel. Israel began pumping natural gas to the Kingdom in 2020 as part of a multi-billion dollar deal, according to reporting from the AP.

In response, BDS and their supporters in Jordan turned off their lights from 10pm to 11pm on Saturday.

Hashem explained that there is a mismatch between the attitude of Jordanians themselves and their government. “It’s very important that people don’t see those government actions and assume all Jordanians are like that, and are okay with those kinds of deals with Israel,” she said. “We do have a moral obligation as citizens to put pressure on our government that we’re not okay with this and we don’t let it happen.”

“BDS is an excellent, civilized, and peaceful way to reiterate what is going on in Palestine and in Israel — the actual misuse of power on people who have lost their land, who don’t have basic rights for schooling, for basic needs,” said Musa Saket, vice chair and CEO of the Alia Group and founder of the “Made in Jordan” campaign, in an interview with Jordan News.

He explained that there are actually relatively few Israeli products in the Jordanian market — with the exception of major utilities like water and gas. “We can buy gas from any other country and not be forced to import anything from Israel, even if it’s gas,” he said, suggesting Egypt, Algeria, and Qatar as alternatives. “The last option should be Israel.”

Both Ruqayya and Saket mentioned that the gas deal was not approved by Parliament.

Saket also added that Jordan’s internal financial challenges may make it harder for its citizens to commit to BDS. With half of youth unemployed, “people have other priorities.”

“In a western nation, where people are more comfortable economically, (BDS) may become, let's say, more successful,” according to Saket.

But Ruqayya is confident in the campaign’s power. “It’s slow, but it’s strategic and impactful,” she said.