The move to boycott US goods is rising in West Asia

New Delhi: A terrible fallout of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war is a slow, yet steady Arab boycott of American consumer goods.

The boycott has been gathering pace for almost a fortnight as a protest against US support for Israel, according to reports reaching the Indian Capital.

Highly placed sources in Amman and Dubai have told this reporter that the boycott has been pushed by some clerics who have denounced some of America’s most famous brands. Radicals have handed out protest leaflets and the internet has been inundated with protest calls.

It was not immediately known how much of a drop in sales had been reported by the US companies which repeatedly refused to share figures. But it is reliably learnt that  Some US companies have reported a drop in sales of between 10-15 percent. The targets include McDonald’s and Burger King, Tide and Ariel detergents, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Marlboro cigarettes, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, Timberland, Starbucks and Heinz. Students have held silent protests outside the Starbucks shops in Amman. 

With the top US brands facing falk, local brands are struggling to keep up with the sudden demand for their products, claim sources.

The boycott has a direct connection with the current war between Israel and Hamas. Some experts – speaking on conditions of anonymity – claim this is actually an extension of the 1951 Arab boycott against Israel, which had been given added impetus by declarations from Muslim scholars who called on Arabs to replace US products with European and Asian goods in appreciation of the political support of those countries. 

Some have even launched a campaign against the US dollar and avoid using the currency, opting for the Euro wherever possible. It has not worked. 

Currently, the protesters are  preaching that the boycott would be good for the economy of West Asia. They have not realised that the US brands work on franchise basis and it is their very own business that is getting impacted. Many US companies have launched campaigns saying the boycott will only hurt locals. US fast food giants have repeatedly said it bought everything from bread to lettuce to mayonnaise from local producers.

As of now, it is a symbolic protest but there are chances, claim sources, it could turn violent. In earlier protests in 2003,  a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet was torched by student protesters at Cairo University and another in Tripoli, Lebanon, was bombed.

The boycott, claim sources, has been largely endorsed by individuals and the few civic and student groups in the region. But if such protests grow unabated, there are high chances that some of the governments could formally endorse it, deleting anything that relates to America.

US companies are, justifiably, worried. Long boycotts could retard the spread of franchises and other products, claim sources, adding consumer products could face a steady decline.

The sources further say the protestors want to design detailed programs against specific goods and services that might involve the banking system, insurance, financial markets. They want their protests to have some solid, economic impact.

For the record, the Arabs established a boycott office in Damascus in 1951 against companies that did business with Israel, and that kept products like Coca-Cola and Ford vehicles out of the Middle East for decades. But a report in the Guardian said it gradually faded as major markets like Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel.

Consider the case of Coca-Cola, a solution partner for social development in Palestine providing employment to more than 850 Palestinians in the 5 distinct plants and 7 distribution centres it has opened in Palestine to date, the Atlanta-based giant continues to be an important factor in social development with its social responsibility projects covering health, education, environment, sports and women’s empowerment in economic life. 

In an earlier interaction with a Turkish news site, Imad Hindi, the General Manager of the National Beverage Company (NBC), which bottles and distributes Coca-Cola products in Palestine, underlined the investments made by the Coca-Cola system since 1998 as the lifeblood of the Palestinian economy and said: “We are currently the 3rd largest employer and the 5th largest investor in Palestine. These figures mean a lot for the Palestinian economy. As NBC, we do not consider our role in Palestine as being limited to employment and investment. Adding value to the society in which we live with our employees is as important a part of our mission as our contribution to the country’s economy.”

Washington is keeping a close watch, it does not want the crisis to escalate.