If you have been on TikTok at all in the last few days, you will probably have heard about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS movement as it’s often referred to online. BDS is a boycott that was formally launched in 2005 by a coalition of about 170 Palestinian unions, refugee networks, women’s organisations, professional associations, popular resistance committees and other Palestinian civil society bodies. Its primary aim is to withdraw funding from companies that are associated with Israel.
Boycotting is a practice often seen during times of conflict and war. For some, it’s a way of expressing civil discontent and outrage in a manner that puts economic and financial pressure on particular organisations and companies.
During the ongoing war in Israel and Palestine, a number of brands have been boycotted for their association with the Israeli government and/or the Israeli military forces. For example, McDonald’s has been heavily boycotted during the past few weeks after one of its branches in Israel stated its intention to provide free meals for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
At the moment, the BDS boycott list includes over 100 multinational companies such as Disney+, the previously mentioned McDonald’s, Starbucks, Nestlé, Danone and Unilever.
The BDS movement has been labelled as an antisemitic group by the US, German, Austrian, Swiss and Czech governments. It has been frequently regarded as a continuation of the Jewish boycott, a practice initiated in March 1933 by the Nazi regime. It was an economic boycott of Jewish businesses with the goal of destabilising and disenfranchising the Jewish community. Germany specifically claimed that BDS was using intentionally ambiguous language to hide strategies and practices that are steeped in antisemitism and aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the Israeli state.
In 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that it would “recognise the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.” He announced that the US would take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw government support for these groups. BDS, however, has continuously rejected these statements and said that it opposes “all forms of racism, including anti-Jewish racism.”
The hashtag #boycottdisneyplus has accumulated over 3.7 million views on TikTok in the last three weeks. The uproar first began when netizens started to highlight that Disney had pledged $2 million to “humanitarian efforts” in Israel. According to Variety, the entertainment conglomerate stated that it would give $1 million to the Israeli emergency service Magen David Adom, which is the nation’s medical emergency, disaster, ambulance and blood service. The rest of the money was pledged to non-profit organisations, with Disney+ also claiming that it would be matching donations from its employees up to $25,000.
In response, netizens started to boycott its on-demand streaming platform and criticised the move in a number of videos. One user stated: “Thank you, I cancelled my Disney+ as of the first of the next month,” and “Cancelled Disney+ and never buying Disney again.” The comment section also frequently pointed towards the fact that Disney’s stock price has fallen ever since the boycott gained traction. Nevertheless, there does not seem to be any clear evidence that it is linked to the recent boycott.
In response, netizens started to boycott its on-demand streaming platform and criticised the move in a number of videos. One user stated: “Thank you, I canceled my Disney+ as of the first of the next month,” and “Cancelled Disney+ and never buying Disney again.” “The comment section also frequently pointed towards the fact that Disney’s stock price has fallen since the boycott gained traction. Nevertheless, there does not seem to be any clear evidence that it is linked to the recent boycott.
As previously mentioned, the McDonald’s branch in Israel has faced a lot of backlash after announcing that it was giving away free food to IDF soldiers earlier last month. In response to the Israeli restaurant’s decision, several other McDonald’s franchises, primarily in Muslim countries in the Middle East, have issued statements opposing the stance. For context, the McDonald’s franchise model allows each location to be owned and operated independently from the brand.
The hashtag #boycottmcdonald currently has over 44 million views on TikTok. In different videos, TikTokers also noted how the stock price of the company has dropped since the boycotts started, going on to highlight that the brand just slashed its prices in a move to incentivise customers. Still, it is unclear whether these instances are linked since the company has launched similar deals in the past. Additionally, fluctuations in a company’s shares are quite usual.
Nestlé, a Swiss food and drink conglomerate, owns 53.8 per cent of Israeli food manufacturer Osem, according to Current Affairs. The company produces food products such as Milo, Nescafé, Maggi and KitKat. So, basically a lot of your childhood favourites. As a way to weaken the company and its subsidiaries, many netizens are currently trying to refrain from using any of the company’s products.
Nonetheless, this one is proving itself to be an uphill battle. In one TikTok, a user noted: “I can’t completely cut them out cause my dog eats Purina, and it works well for him, but I don’t use most of these.” “I’ve tried this but it’s really discouraging because almost every product that you find at the store is owned by one of three big companies,” another netizen added.
Despite this movement being nonviolent, it is definitely still quite controversial. In accordance with the ongoing boycott, vandals smashed the windows of a McDonald’s branch in Keighley, a town in England, on Wednesday 1 November 2023. Furthermore, protesters have been releasing rodents into several restaurants of the fast-food chain. All of these are statements reflective of the sheer desperation of civilians who are calling for an immediate ceasefire in Palestine.
On social media, some have deemed these acts pointless: “Don’t they know that all McDonald’s are individually owned and run?” one commentator noted. Another wrote: “This doesn’t support the cause it just hurts people.” “Why do this to people who are struggling to survive just like them? Why not do it at the offices and homes of the rich,” a final individual stated.
Whether or not BDS is working is hard to determine because the impact of these boycotts can’t be measured well due to complex cause-and-effect relationships, data limitations, and broader economic factors that influence a company’s performance and dilute results.
Nonetheless, pushes by members of the movement in the past few years have resulted in companies like Ben & Jerry’s stopping the sales of their products in Israel’s occupied territories. On the other hand, critics have noted that BDS is trying to defund Israel in general, rather than focusing on government areas and cooperations that support or condone its occupation of Palestinian territories.