JANUARY'S massacre in Gaza by Israeli forces should give us all pause to think. Are we really totally powerless to stop Israeli armed aggression against Palestinian civilians? The answer is, actually, no we are not completely powerless.
South Africa, the original apartheid state, was brought to its knees by an economic boycott against its policies. Yes, Bangladesh is a small country and far from the Middle East; but our imports are bought with the same American dollars that support the Israeli economy, and we should utilise them intelligently.
The economic boycott of South Africa was about more than boycotting South African products; it also targeted multi-nationals that invested in (and thus economically supported) the apartheid state. Bangladesh already disallows direct imports from Israel through its import policy; but Bangladeshi consumers have yet to take action against multi-nationals that have the dubious distinction of directly supporting Zionist land grabbing, or receiving Israeli government awards recognising their investments in Israel.
One company directly supporting Israeli land grabbing is Intel. Exports from Intel's Lachish-Qiryat Gat plant total $1 billion a year. Al-Awda (the Palestine Right to Return Coalition) has pointed out that the Intel plant is built on land Israel confiscated from Iraq al-Manshiya, which was a Palestinian village of 2,000 people. The Palestinians were replaced by the new Jewish settlement of Qiryat-Gat, where Intel then invested and became a big employer.
Alongside Intel, many Western high-tech companies invest heavily in Israel, viewing it as a cheap source of technical talent. Companies like Nokia, Microsoft, and IBM are all big investors in Israel, with large research and development facilities there.
In May 2002, the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce awarded IBM the Ambassador's Award in recognition of its outstanding contribution to the development of the Israeli high-tech industry and to advancing Israeli exports.
It would certainly be better to buy phones and computer hardware made by Asian companies, which do not outsource to Israel. Taiwanese chip manufacturer Via, for example, makes Pentium clone chips comparable to those from Intel; Taiwanese Acer makes PCs, and Korean Samsung makes phones. No one should buy Microsoft software, as free alternatives like OpenOffice and Ubuntu Linux are good replacements.
Companies which receive awards from the Israeli government are particularly suspect. In 1998, the following companies received the Jubilee Award from right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu: Johnson and Johnson (manufacturer of many baby products), Kimberly Clark (makers of Kleenex tissues and Huggies nappies), AOL Time Warner (owner of Time magazine and CNN news), Nestle (owner of Nido milk and Cerelac baby formula brands, as well as the ever-present Nescafe coffee and Kitkat, Quality Street, Smarties, and After Eight chocolates). These are all popular brands in Bangladesh; the question is do they deserve our money?
Coca Cola (which also owns Fanta and Sprite) is another such case. In 1997, the government of Israel honoured Coca-Cola and its 30 years of support at the Israel Trade Award Dinner. Would it really be difficult to switch to some of the other myriad soft drink brands available?
Only the conscience of the Bangladeshi consumer will keep out Israeli goods and punish companies that support Israel. So all of us should become more aware of the activities of the companies from whom we buy. In this way, we can pressure multi-nationals to stop doing business in Israel. They should decide which is the more important market; Bangladesh with its 150 million consumers, or Israel with only 7 million.
In these times of global recession, organising boycotts against Israel and its corporate supporters could actually work. The customer is king; and kings should understand the world and use their influence to improve it.