AUG 10 — It is a wonder how much McDonald’s and Starbucks have managed to grow in Malaysia in the past decades, considering the seasonal “boycott” and brickbats they get from the Muslim community from their so-called links to Zionists or Israel.
But then again, perhaps the reason why they have stayed this long is because the boycotts themselves have been, well, seasonal.
And right now, the season has returned for the Muslim community to boycott these companies, and many others including Tesco, Nestle and Coca-Cola. Furthermore, the intensity of the boycott seems to be the fiercest this time around as the Israeli armed forces continue their military offensive in Gaza.
There is just something fascinating about Malaysian Muslims’ obsession with the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict, that elevates it above mere concern over the atrocious crimes of humanity being perpetrated with utmost impunity by Israel.
Is it because most Palestinians are Muslims? Then again this frenzy totally outstrips concern for other Muslims facing calamities all around the world, from the Rohingyas in Myanmar, to those in the Central African Republic, and even minorities under the Islamic State.
Inadvertently, this frenzy has led many Muslims here to jump headfirst, ignorant of their own boycott itself.
Many Muslims and Islamic NGOs here have based their boycott on information provided by an anonymous website called Innovative Minds (Inminds), which started out as a company providing Islamic software. The list of boycotted companies was also endorsed by the London-based group Islamic Human Rights Commission.
However, not only is a lot of the information provided by Inminds outdated (it was last updated two years ago), but the list of companies are also invalid in the Malaysian context. This is simply because the Malaysian branches of the companies mentioned in the list, although same in name, are different entities altogether.
Take McDonald’s, for example. A commonly used argument is that any money spent in Malaysian McD outlets will eventually reach Israel through the non-profit charity group Jewish Unity Fund (JUF).
Fact of the matter is, only the US-based McDonald’s Corp contributes to JUF. McDonald’s Malaysia, being a local franchisee and a different company, has no links with JUF aside from paying its parent company a franchising royalty.
For many, this is enough to implicate Malaysian McD as guilty of supporting Israel. They do not really care whether the money spent actually funds the Israeli army. A tenuous link is enough.
I felt despair when I saw on Twitter young Malaysians producing a crude caricature of a flowchart linking McDonald’s Malaysia to Israel’s army as “concrete evidence” to justify their boycott. There were no sources, no numbers. Just a caricature, probably endorsed by an Islamic figure.
But then again, people do not want to be right. They just want to be righteous.
To be frank, there is a reason why the response to this conflict has always been such a frenzy: because it is being committed by Jews — which many Muslims see as their sworn enemies for centuries.
Unable to compete with the Jewish lobby worldwide, their giant multinational companies, or the Israeli state itself — with their more superior military and intelligence — the Muslim world might have felt that this time it has a chance to hurt the Jews where it hurts, and this boycott is their chance for a ‘jihad’ or a holy struggle.
Therefore, when presented with opposing arguments against their boycott — such as from the non-denominational BDS Movement Malaysia — some Muslims have even resorted to accusing the source or the messenger as pro-Jew or Zionists.
Some, bereft of facts to tackle the absence of evidence to implicate companies, fell back on that common Muslim accusation: that the Jews are born liars and tricksters, and there is no reason to believe these “facts” supplied by them.
The longer this boycott goes on, the more danger it will pose towards our fellow Malaysians who work for these companies.
We have already seen mass protests at McD outlets. We have heard anecdotes of McD and Starbucks staff being harassed and spat on. We have seen some publicly shame their consumers, with the attitude of “if you are not with us, you are with the Israelis”.
The way Malaysians are treating some of our fellow countrymen, it is as if they were the ones selling the bullets, the missiles, or the tanks that murdered those in Gaza. What fault did they commit in earning honest cash?
This is not a boycott. This is a misplaced, misguided show of anger and hatred. We are turning our own countrymen into targets, into proxies of a force that we ourselves cannot face.
Worse still, this is the sort of thing some see as a God-sent religious crusade, and there will be no reasoning with them.
When Muslim NGOs such as Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), Perkasa, Pembina and the Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) launch their month-long campaign today to show their rage, it will not be Israel which feels their anger. It will be our fellow Malaysians.
As for me, I will not be joining the boycott, at least not in this guise. I have no desire to be part of something which is steeped in ignorance, hatred, and at its heart is nothing more than a show of anti-Semitism.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.