‘Did you kill a Palestinian?’: War sparks anti-West boycott across Arab world

People angered by support for Israel’s offensive against Hamas shun McDonald’s, KFC, Coca-Cola and more; apps identify banned products, billboards promote boycott

Palestinians holds posters asking for the boycotting of Israeli products during a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron on October 28, 2023. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
Palestinians holds posters asking for the boycotting of Israeli products during a rally in the West Bank city of Hebron on October 28, 2023. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

In a convenience store in Bahrain, 14-year-old Jana Abdullah carries a tablet as she shops, checking a list of Western brands to avoid as Israel pursues its war against the Hamas terror group.

Jana and her 10-year-old brother, Ali, used to eat at McDonald’s nearly daily but they are among many across the Middle East now boycotting companies they believe support Israel.

With a campaign spreading on social media including TikTok, children as well as their parents are shunning major brands such as Starbucks, KFC, and Carrefour.

“We have started to boycott all products that support Israel in solidarity with the Palestinians,” Jana told AFP.

“We do not want our money to contribute to more fighting,” she added, searching for local replacements.

The movement has gradually swelled since October 7, when 3,000 Gazan terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air, and sea in a shock assault, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking at least 240 hostages under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israel.

Israel swiftly declared war on Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is openly committed to destroying the Jewish state. Israel has said it aims to eliminate the Islamist terror group, in order to prevent any recurrence of the October 7 slaughter, and to secure the release of the hostages, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. It accuses Hamas of using Gazans as human shields, deliberately putting them in harm’s way while seeking to evade Israeli troops and continuing to fire rockets into Israel.

Kuwaitis hold up keys representing homes abandoned by Palestinians as they fled their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, during a rally in solidarity with the Palestinians at Iradah Square in Kuwait City on November 3, 2023. (Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has claimed that some 9,700 people have been killed since October 7 amid Israel’s airstrikes and ground offensive. However, that figure cannot be independently verified and is believed to include Hamas terror operatives as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets that fell within the enclave.

Across the region, Arabs angered by the Israeli attacks, have turned against brands associated with Israel’s allies, notably the United States.

The boycott has been accompanied by calls for Arab states to cut ties with Israel, while pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rallies have taken place weekly in major capitals.

Turkey and Jordan have recalled their ambassadors to Israel, Saudi Arabia announced a pause in normalization talks and Bahrain’s parliament said trade ties had been halted, although there was no government confirmation.

Grim billboards

Led by tech-savvy youth, the boycott campaign includes browser extensions, dedicated websites, and smartphone apps that identify proscribed products.

One Google Chrome extension, PalestinePact, blurs items advertised online if they are included in the list.

More traditional methods are also in use. Beside a four-lane highway in Kuwait City, giant billboards show images of bloodstained children in bandages.

“Did you kill a Palestinian today?” the grim slogan asks, jabbing at consumers who are still using the targeted goods.

According to Mishari al-Ibrahim, a Kuwaiti activist, Western support for Israel’s Gaza offensive “strengthened the spread of the boycott in Kuwait.”

“It created a mental image among Kuwaitis that the West’s slogans and what it says about human rights do not apply to us.”

McDonald’s has found itself a prime target. Last month, the US fast food chain’s Israel franchise announced it had given thousands of free meals to soldiers, sparking uproar in the region.

McDonald’s Kuwait, a separate entity, responded by pledging more than $160,000 to relief efforts in Gaza and said it “stands with Palestine” in a statement on social media.

McDonald’s Qatar also pledged $275,000 to relief efforts in Gaza and stressed in a statement last month that it was separate from the Israeli branches.

‘Pay for bullets’

In Qatar, some Western outlets have been forced to close after their owners shared pro-Israel content online.

The Doha branches of Pura Vida Miami, a US cafe, and French pastry company Maitre Choux both shut in October.

In Egypt, a home-grown soda brand long ignored by much of the population has come into vogue because of the boycott. Spiro Spathis, founded in 1920, said it recently received more than 15,000 applications in a hiring round prompted by the growing demand.

However, the boycott could have a deep impact on Egypt’s economy, the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce has warned.

“The impact on the Egyptian investors and tens of thousands of workers will be profound,” a statement said, stressing that local branches are owned by Egyptian franchisees.

Meanwhile in Jordan, where social media posts have warned consumers not to “pay for bullets,” Abu Abdullah is closely inspecting a bottle of flavored milk at a grocery store in the capital, Amman.

“Ah, this is made in Tunisia,” he said, his four-year-old son Abdullah standing beside him.

“This is the least we can do for our brothers in Gaza,” he said. “We must boycott.”

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