My 11-month-old daughter has impeccable taste in music. When I played the Motown Christmas album on Spotify, she starting bobbing her head to some vintage Stevie Wonder.
I was delighted, then, that she received a bag of small instruments as an early Christmas present. That was before I picked up one of them and saw the dreaded words “Made in Israel.”
Halilit, the manufacturer of this “baby band,” is headquartered in Or-Yehuda in the Tel Aviv district. Or-Yehuda was built on land belonging to Saqiya, a Palestinian village forcibly depopulated during the Nakba, the vicious ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s foundation in 1948.
I’m sure there are many shoppers who have bought Halilit goods without being aware they are Israeli. It would be easy to do so: I checked the entries for some Halilit products on the Amazon website and didn’t see any information about where they were made.
So I’m writing this post as an appeal for vigilance. The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel has made tremendous progress since it was first launched in 2005. The decision by the American Studies Association to support the academic boycott of Israel is the latest in an ever-expanding list of victories notched up by BDS campaigners.
Now that the pressure is piling on Israel, let’s not undermine our efforts by inadvertently putting Israeli goods in our shopping baskets. Reading the small print is vital.
I recall a speech given by Nelson Mandela to a concert held in London not long after his release. Business leaders were evidently eager for the West to lift the sanctions its governments had imposed (reluctantly) on South Africa. But Mandela insisted that it was not yet the right time for the pressure to be eased.
Israel has not even begun the small steps that the white minority government in Pretoria had taken towards dismantling aspects of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s. On the contrary, Israeli racism is becoming increasingly entrenched. A raft of discriminatory bills is being processed by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, that was elected earlier this year.
By, among other things, according special privileges to those who have served in the Israeli military, such laws and policies emphasize that Israeli Jews are considered more important by the state than Palestinian citizens of Israel. And it’s important to underscore that the Prawer Plan — a blueprint for the mass displacement of Palestinian Bedouins in present-day Israel — has not been entirely abandoned, even if the legislation that would have put into effect has been withdrawn.
For tactical reasons, some human rights campaigners have concentrated on advocating a boycott of goods produced on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. That approach is understandable. Yet it overlooks how Palestinian citizens of Israel also live under an apartheid system.
That’s why we should not hesitate to urge a boycott of companies like Halilit that are based inside Israel. To the best of my knowledge, the movement against apartheid South Africa did not draw distinctions between goods based on what part of the country they were produced in; it sought a boycott of all South African goods. The same should apply to Israel.
Predictably, Halilit’s promotional material is replete with photographs of smiling infants. The images tell us nothing about how Israel treats Palestinian children.
We do not learn that pupils in Gaza have to do their homework in the dark because the besieged territory is encountering severe power cuts. We do not learn either that an estimated 30 percent of Gaza’s children are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder because Israel subjected them to eight consecutive days of bombing in November 2012.
No doubt, there are Zionist advocates with a ready-made response to my plea for a boycott of Israeli toys. The most likely argument they will use is that Israel has higher labor standards than some Asian countries where so many of the items in the West’s shopping malls are made.
I accept that, with the exception of some fair trade products, the range of “ethical” toys available is limited. So long as capitalism reigns supreme, the captains of industry will put profit maximization ahead of all other concerns.
We should not be distracted, though, by any crocodile tears Israel supporters shed for sweatshop workers. The fact remains that Palestinians have asked people of conscience to boycott Israel. It is a call that should be heeded this Christmas — and at every other time of the year.
- Tel Aviv
- ethnic cleansing
- American Studies Association
- academic boycott
- Nelson Mandela
- South Africa
- Palestinians in Israel
- Prawer Plan
- Israeli settlements
- West Bank
- Gaza electricity crisis
- Wajih Wajdi al-Ramahi
- fair trade