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Do boycotts help Palestinians?
Published on: Saturday, November 11, 2023
By: FMT, Ameer Fakhri
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Do boycotts help Palestinians?
A Universiti Malaya academic says without a dramatic shift in pressure Israel is unlikely to stop military action until it has dismantled Hamas completely. (AP pic)
PETALING JAYA: Calls for boycotts – a common way to pressure nations and organisations into caving to public demands – have resurfaced recently amid the current Israel-Palestine conflict.

Various groups and individuals have been campaigning for the public to boycott companies on grounds that they are apparently aligned with Israel.

Lists of businesses with alleged links to the Jewish state have been circulating widely, with social media users also posting photos which appear to show the empty storefronts of “pro-Israel” companies.

On Nov 3, Walid Abu Ali, the Palestinian ambassador to Malaysia, commended the public for its initiative, saying such campaigns could help alleviate the suffering of his country’s citizens.

However, many employees at the affected companies are concerned about their job security due a steep decline in revenue.

FMT takes a closer look at the efficacy and impact of boycotts framed within the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Can boycotts succeed?

Experts think these boycotts are ineffective, saying they do not help the Palestinian cause, and are instead self-sabotaging.

Geoffrey Williams of the Malaysia University of Science and Technology said international franchise owners are unlikely to be fazed, as Malaysia represents only a small segment of their market.

“Instead, franchisees in Malaysia and their stakeholders, including employees, would suffer,” Williams told FMT.

Meanwhile, Malaysian Employers Federation president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said prolonged boycotts may threaten the job security of more than 18,000 employees in related franchises and supply services.

Lai Wei Sieng of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said these boycotts are unlikely to inflict sufficient pressure on the United States and Israel as these countries possess bigger income streams from other sources.

“A boycott (in Malaysia) could backfire if many people lose their jobs, as it will then pressure the government into seeking initiatives to assist those affected,” Lai told FMT.

What are the alternatives?

Universiti Malaya security and strategy analyst Collins Chong said Israel views Hamas as the biggest threat to its survival following the Oct 7 attacks – which some have labelled the Israeli version of “9/11”.

Chong said, unless a dramatic shift in pressure is seen, Israel will not stop military action until it has dismantled Hamas completely.

“Pro-Palestinian movements and voices have been swelling the world over, and yet they barely dent Netanyahu’s unwavering intent to obliterate Hamas.

“As such, new openings that will have a direct impact on pushing for civilian protection and a ceasefire must be explored, instead of the conventional reactions of boycotts and total condemnations of the West alone,” Chong told FMT.

Chong and Lai said the public should instead focus on giving afflicted Palestinians tangible assistance, including through donations.

Chong said any pressure on Israel should be left to leaders from key countries. However, greater public awareness and support could influence Israel to allow immediate humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and may even bring about a ceasefire.

“Malaysia has bargaining cards over Arab countries to influence Israel. Concurrently, Malaysia should also engage in quiet diplomacy with the US and mediators like Doha, Ankara and Riyadh to pressure Netanyahu for an immediate ceasefire.

“Malaysia is increasingly important to Riyadh, Tehran and Ankara in the sphere of religious diplomacy, food security, energy transitions, as well as defence and security diplomacy,” he added.

Chong also said Malaysia would need to look beyond engaging in “knee-jerk” reactions with the West and the US. Instead, the country should leverage on global and Indo-Pacific competition for power to help de-escalate the ongoing conflict.

“Defence and security, economic and technology returns to the country are too critical for Malaysia to risk good ties with the US,” he added.

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