Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In a compelling op-ed published in The Daily Gazette, the Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) proposed a boycott of Sabra hummus. They gave the following rationale:
“An internationally distributed brand, Sabra is partially owned by the Strauss Group, Israel’s second largest food and beverage company. As a company the Strauss group actively supports the Israeli Defense Forces, specifically the Golani Brigade, which is notorious for its poor human rights record. Their relationship includes providing the Golani Brigade with products for training missions and personal care packages.”
Sabra then indirectly supports the occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza and we must boycott it. I agree with the SPJP’s proposed boycott of Sabra Hummus, but I don’t think it goes far enough.
Let us examine another company that supports human rights violations against Palestinians, Google. Google has two offices in Israel, one in Tel Aviv and one in Haifa. Google, by Israeli Law, must withhold income from its employees and pay various Israeli taxes similar to the payroll tax in the United States. It is also obligated to pay corporate taxes on profits earned in Israel. Google pays taxes directly to the Israeli government, which in turn arms and funds the Israel Defense Force (IDF). The IDF is responsible, according to SPJP, for numerous human rights violations in Gaza and the West Bank. As a result, Google, like Sabra, supports the oppression of the Palestinians. Google makes money through ads on its websites, and that money supports human rights violations in the territories. If we believe human rights violations are morally wrong and should boycott companies that support them, then we should boycott Google by blocking all Google websites from use on Swarthmore’s Internet. But it doesn’t stop with Google. Intel has five offices in Israel. Microsoft, Yahoo, and IBM have offices there also. The list goes on.
Now you are probably saying “phew” at this point, we have to get rid of all the colleges Dell computers (they use Intel processors), but we can still keep the Apple computers. Most of the college computers are Apples, so we should be fine. We can’t search for anything on the Internet, but we can get around that. We’ll be fine. Fine…for now. Apple has been in negotiations to both buy an Israeli startup company called Anobit and open offices in the same office park in Haifa as Intel, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google. If Apple opens up there, I guess we’ll have to find another kind of computer.
You have probably figured out by now that I am not being serious, and you’re right. I believe both sides in this conflict want peace, but neither trusts the other as a partner in it. I don’t think the boycott of Sabra is a good idea because I think it is a stunt. It is yet another example in a long line of both sides trying to score points against the other. The boycott serves no real purpose other than to attack an Israeli-affiliated company for no other reason than it has a connection to Israel. An anti-Israel prejudice is as destructive and wrong as any other prejudice. It is also convenient. If the college were to really accept the argument against Sabra, I would hope that it would boycott all the other companies as well. Human rights violations are uniformly wrong. If we as a school decide that boycotting companies that support the Israeli army indirectly is right, then, if for no other reason than avoidance of utter hypocrisy, then we had better go all the way. If we don’t, then we are just putting on a farce. Further, the initiative alienates the pro-Israel students at Swarthmore. If at Swarthmore College, of all places, the pro-Israel students and pro-Palestinian students don’t or can’t engage in a constructive dialogue, I have little hope of progress towards the peace I think we both want.