Enough of the boycotts, they generally don't achieve their goals - editorial

For decades, we were the victims of the Arab boycott, which greatly impacted on the country’s economic growth.

 Shoppers walk past a Zara Store on Oxford Street in London, Britain December 17, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON/FILE PHOTO)
Shoppers walk past a Zara Store on Oxford Street in London, Britain December 17, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/SIMON DAWSON/FILE PHOTO)

Boycotts in general are flawed attempts to make nuanced issues into clearly defined lines in the sand. They generally don’t achieve their aims and attempts to impose thought control instead of letting people make up their own minds.

In Israel, we know the cost of boycotts.

For decades, we were the victims of the Arab boycott, which greatly impacted on the country’s economic growth. In addition, global corporations, from Nestlé to McDonald’s to Pepsi, refused to sell their wares to Israel, in fear of antagonizing their massive trade in the Arab world.

And there’s no need to go that far back. The Ben & Jerry’s boycott of the West Bank and the resulting call by supporters of Israel’s presence in the territories to reciprocate by boycotting the ice cream makers has been playing out in headlines for the last year. But for some, the ice cream is just too good to boycott.

Will Zara be the next boycott victim? The popular fashion chain with stores in most Israeli malls is getting some bad publicity because of a ‘hug bayit’ (informational evening) held last week with Itamar Ben-Gvir, the head of the ultra-nationalist Otzma Yehudit faction, which is running with the Religious Zionist Party in next week’s Knesset election.

Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market in the run up to next month’s election. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market in the run up to next month’s election. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Where was the event held?

The event was held in the Ra’anana home of Joey Schwebel, a Canadian-Israeli who chairs Trimera Brands, the fashion distribution giant and the Israeli franchisee of Zara, owned by Spain’s Inditex, as well as swimwear giant Gottex.

When news of the meeting came to light via an N12 report, the reactions were fast and furious. Arab citizens and MKs as well as voices on the Israeli Left denounced the meeting and called for a boycott of Zara (but interestingly not Gottex). Social media was full of clips of Arab Israelis burning clothes they had bought at Zara and calling for others to join in.

Rahat Mayor Fayez Abu Sahib labeled Zara “fascist” and said “Our stance needs to be clear in relation to shops like these that support fascism.”

Ta’al Party leader Ahmad Tibi tweeted: “The ugliness of Zara Ben-Gvir Israel.”

They were joined by Jewish Israelis as well, who posted they would never set foot in a Zara store again.

The anger over the meeting and fear surrounding the possibility that Ben-Gvir and his partner, Bezalel Smotrich, will gain as many as 12 or 13 seats and become ministers in a right-wing coalition, is real.

Following the public outcry, Otzma Yehudit accused critics of the meeting of being intolerant. “There are those for whom tolerance, freedom of speech and democracy are just slogans because in practice, they behave exactly the opposite,” it said.

Ben-Gvir’s extreme positions, including the deportation of people deemed disloyal to the state, should be anathema to lovers of democracy. But if Schwebel supports someone like Ben-Gvir, that is his right. His office told Channel 12 news that it would not comment on “private family matters.”

Consumers should decide for themselves whether to patronize a particular establishment or not, based on their own considerations – not as part of a unified form of coercion.

A boycott of Zara would impact hundreds of employees of the chain (Arab as well as Jewish), who are neither supporters of Ben-Gvir nor involved in the political considerations of their boss.

A hug bayit doesn’t even mean that the candidate will garner more support. Those who attended last week’s event might have walked away either more attracted to Ben-Gvir’s agenda or perhaps more turned off by it.

But in an open and democratic country, citizens should be able to host meetings for candidates for the Knesset as they deem worthy, just as they are free to patronize whatever businesses they choose. If you don’t like the candidate, don’t vote for them. If you don’t like the store – or the owner’s political affiliation – don’t go there.

The best way to ensure that the Religious Zionist Party fails in its bid to weaken the democratic nature of the country is to vote for other parties, not to boycott a clothing chain.