Starbucks, McD, Grab and now 7-Eleven: How many more pro-Israeli biz can we afford to boycott?

THE MalaysiaNow news portal has come out with a piece about how 7- Eleven is on the side of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian war.

I am not surprised. This is an immensely divisive war. For reasons that only those who are in the Abrahamic faith can fathom, this war is having a visceral effect in the Muslim world, the Jewish diaspora and to a lesser extent, Christendom.

Because the Judeo-Christian world and the Muslim together constitute roughly half the world’s population, the other half of the world which is not of the Abrahamic lineage are also giving a disproportionate level of attention to the war in Gaza.

Although the civil war in Myanmar is both in scale and proximity, a bigger and more relevant war to us in Southeast Asia – and although the war in Ukraine is probably the biggest war that is happening around the globe today – it is the war in Gaza that has gripped the world’s attention for the last two months.

This is even though the region of conflict is just a sliver of an area. For comparison, the Gaza strip where the fighting is going on is smaller than Langkawi. The state of Israel is just around the size of Perak.

Israel has a population of about nine million while the Palestinians in Gaza number around two million. Together, they account for just 11 million people or a third of the Malaysian population.

On an objective scale, the war in Gaza is actually just a small conflict. Despite it being small in real terms, in the imagination of the people – especially those of the Abrahamic faith – it is a colossal event.

It is so colossal that we can feel the pulse of the war even here in Malaysia. Muslims in Malaysia are so upset that not only are they constantly demonstrating in favour of the Palestinian cause, they are also taking retaliatory measures against Israel by doing things like boycotting businesses that are associated with Israel.

This is despite the fact that Gaza is almost 8,000 km away and most of us have never seen a Palestinian in our lives, much less an Israeli.

RM63 bil of US investments at stake

Starbucks, McDonalds and Grab are some of the more notable companies in Malaysia that have faced a heavy backlash due to their perceived support of Israel. Judging by the MalaysiaNow report, 7-Eleven might be the next to join the list.

My question, however, is where is all of this leading to? According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Malaysia has secured an investment worth around RM63 bil from the US as of Nov 17. The US and most of the West are backing the Israelis in the war in Gaza.

Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla whose investment Anwar has been actively courting for the past few months, is a self-described “Philo-Semitic.” In other words, his sympathies likely lie with Israel.

While it is not an easy job to talk about ringgit and sense when people are deeply upset at a visceral level, I think it is time for non-Muslims in Malaysia to introduce other dimension of the matter, including the economic dimension, so that it will at least register in the attention of our Muslim compatriots.

At some point, we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that almost all of the major western nations are on the side of Israel. Other than Starbucks, McDonalds and 7-Eleven, corporations like Disney also have displayed a strong pro-Israel stance.

Influential business moguls like Elon Musk who owns not just Tesla but also Twitter (now X) are also likely pro-Israel.

As this war continues, just as how Muslims in Malaysia are expressing their support of the Palestinians, more Western corporations like 7-Eleven are likely going to come out to show their support of Israel.

Elon Musk (right) in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (middle) on Sept 19 whereby the latter urged the US tycoon to fight anti-Semitism on his X platform

Double edged sword

How many more companies are we intending to boycott here? Are we really going to say no to Tesla’s investment and the RM63 bil investment that we have secured from the US to show our solidarity with Palestine?

Our pro-Palestinian stance has also gone up from the citizen level to the government agency level recently.

It is one thing for Malaysians to demonstrate and boycott products and services in support of Israel but it is another thing for our courts to sentence people to jail for flying the Israeli flag or for our police to arrest people for stating that they want to build bridges with Israel.

If government institutions like the police and courts start taking sides against Israel, this will be interpreted as the official position of Malaysia.

Let us not forget that boycotts and repudiations are double-edged swords. It is not just something that we can do to pro-Israeli corporations from the West but it is also something that the pro-Israeli West can do against us.

The US and China are the two biggest economies in the world. The more we cross swords with American or Western corporations over Israel and Palestine, the more we will have to rely on China for economic cooperation and future investments. This is a big decision. Are we going to let a war that is happening 8,000km away make this decision for us?

The war in Ukraine has been going on for nearly two years and still we have not seen its end. The war in Gaza will most likely also last for at least a few years. Can we afford to sustain the momentum of our pro-Palestinian stand for a few years ?

What is Malaysia’s official stand?

Both Israel and Palestine have thrown down the gauntlet. They are riding the tiger now. Neither of them can afford to dismount until their opponent surrenders. Their conflict is likely going to be vicious and long. How much are we going to commit to boycotting pro-Israeli corporations and for how long?

Right now, Israel is seemingly the side with the upper hand in the conflict, and thus many western companies are not openly showing their support for Israel just yet. But if Israel suffers a setback, they are going to come out to support Israel in a more open manner.

An August 2014 file pic from Coconuts KL which is still relevant almost a decade later

If we are already boycotting Starbucks, McDonalds and 7-Eleven, we will be compelled to boycott these companies too in the future in order to remain consistent in our stand. Can we afford to sustain an ever-expansive economic boycott for years to come?

Even if we decide to boycott 7-Eleven today – at some point – we have to ask ourselves, where is all of this leading to? What is our exit strategy here?

I really think that it is about time that Parliament discusses Malaysia’s stance with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian war so that we can all be on the same page on the subject. We need a resolution on the subject and we certainly need an exit strategy.

Rather than let the courts, the cops and public sentiment decide our investment strategy and foreign policy, maybe it’s time that Parliament owns up to its responsibility, discusses the matter and comes up with a resolution so that all of us know what is at stake here, what can be done, what is the way forward and what is the limit. – Dec 10, 2023


Nehru Sathiamoorthy is a roving tutor who loves politics, philosophy and psychology.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


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