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A Call to Sustain Hope for Peace in Gaza

As I am living in a predominantly Muslim country, the news about conflict in Gaza strips becomes our main attention when we see the world. Protests and demonstrations to support Palestine are a part of our daily lives. The biggest rally happened in early February 2024, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia, to hold an interreligious prayer to stop atrocities in Gaza. This big rally happened a few weeks before the presidential and legislative elections. Every representative from competing parties and the leaders of religious groups were present to show unity. And yet the conflict in Gaza seems not to have any solution.

Recently, there has been an ongoing and massive movement to boycott business entities that are considered to be related to Israel. This campaign has a similar pattern to the global BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement in Europe and North America. But this campaign also drew pros and cons from Indonesian civil society. There are several layers of discussion about this campaign.

The first is a discussion about the effectiveness of this movement. Some argued that this movement would not be effective. They argue that a boycott will only hurt the local economy, especially during high inflation due to the rising oil price from the Ukraine-Russian war. In the end, the ones who suffered from the boycott were the Indonesian low-income workers who had faced the layoff. The oligarchs, as owners of this global corporation, will not be affected by this movement. But, for the supporters of this campaign, effectiveness should not be the main criterion in assessing social movements. They argue that even the international community with its international political structure (United Nations Security Council) fails to deliver a viable resolution to stop the war. In response to the impact on the local economy, this campaign also argues that by boycotting multinational corporations, people will start to choose local products: why do we buy a cheeseburger from McDonald’s if the local one is cheaper?

Second, the debate on the national campaign to boycott the business enterprise that supports Israel is finding the correct data for deciding which product should be boycotted. The problem is that most of the targeted products were never explicitly said to support the war. Others were boycotted more because it “represents the West” rather than the war itself. Take the example of boycotting Starbucks. This action was triggered by news about Starbucks management forbidding its worker association from making political statements to support Gaza. On its Indonesian official website, Starbucks makes various statements to stop the war and refutes various false information about its involvement in Israel’s politics.

The third is about the debate within Indonesian society on whether we should focus on the global problem or the unfinished local problem. Some segments of Indonesian society criticize this movement for focusing only on the problem in an international setting (and especially due to religion as a core attribute of one’s identity) and at the same time choosing to remain silent on human rights abuse conducted by the Indonesian state apparatus in handling regional conflict in Indonesia. Some argued that this boycott was just a plain cherry-picking action.

Apart from these three layers of debate, the boycott seems to work. There is an initial report on the declining revenues of several targeted products. While we must wait for a longitudinal study on the impact of this boycott, this initial report energizes the optimism of the group that supports the boycott and stimulates a more far-reaching campaign.

As a theological ethicist, I found three interesting insights from these processes and discussions. First, the movement is becoming more inclusive. The initial thrust of this movement is indeed from the Islamic community. But the language to stop the war is becoming more open by making statements like “You don’t need to be a Muslim to stand for Palestine. You just need to be a human.” By embracing a more inclusive language, supporters of this cause also grow bigger and stronger. Pope Francis’s special message shows the common stance on the most urgent problem of stopping the war above the differences in various political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[1]

Second, this campaign also shows the dynamic of engaged citizens in a post-authoritarian society. A post-authoritarian state can be defined as a “hybrid” state where authoritarianism and democracy work at the same time. Even though the authoritarian leader was trampled down, the legacy of the authoritarian system still exists, especially in the state bureaucracy and its judiciary system. On the other hand, there are forceful aspirations for a “free society” in the social movement. Engaged citizenship is at the core of making civil society. If this dynamic of engaged citizenship becomes stronger, this energy can be directed into another social project to build a more inclusive and peaceful society.

Third, a post-authoritarian society also inherits the problem of fake news. The discussion on finding adequate information to determine which product should be boycotted becomes crucial. Therefore, becoming informed citizens is essential in order to make a reasonable judgment amidst the plethora of unverified news. In the Indonesian context, the basis for making judgments is sometimes blurry. It is not only about the war per se but also about the sentiment toward the “western/liberal values” as represented or promoted by a certain product. The anger toward Starbucks, for example, was already boiling since their official support of LGBTQ rights, a topic that is still highly debated within traditional Indonesian society.

As of today, more than 36,000 people (35,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis) have died, and there is no visible de-escalation in the conflict zone. We can disagree on how political arrangements should be made between Israel and Palestine.[2] But, for now, the urgent task is to stop the war. We believe this hope for peace is shared across the political spectrum and religious traditions. The call to boycott is one of many means to sustain this hope.

[1] https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2024-03/pope-francis-angelus-appeal-ceasefire-gaza-war-israel-palestine.html

[2] https://www.abc.net.au/religion/peter-wertheim-future-of-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/103737550