Several Malaysian groups have been supporting the “Boycott Israel” campaign targeting companies that are allegedly contributing funds to Israel. The boycott campaign is a protest against Israel’s military offensives in Gaza, which have killed almost 2,000 Palestinians, including many innocent civilians and children.
In Malaysia, which is a Muslim-dominated nation, many groups have called for a boycott of McDonald’s since the company is accused of giving funds to Israel. McDonald's has repeatedly denied this charge. A nationwide boycott of McDonald’s was successfully organized last Friday, but it also drew mixed reactions.
Most netizens expressed support for the idea of pressuring Israel to stop its offensives, but some of them were skeptical about the effectiveness of the boycott campaign. There were also negative reactions to the protest, which became violent when stones were thrown at some McDonald’s stores. Some branches were forced to close while others suffered an 80 percent loss of revenue.
Stephen Chew, the managing director of McDonald’s Malaysia, wrote an emotional letter about the impact of the boycott campaign on their workers:
On behalf of the 12,000 employees at McDonald’s Malaysia, I am writing to make an appeal to all Malaysians to please stop hurting fellow Malaysians
Our staff which comprises of 95% Malaysians, among which 85% are Malays, have faced countless attacks ranging from personal harassment to public attacks.
Our staff in uniform have been publicly humiliated. Others were shunned by their peers when they went to the mosque. Even the children of our staff have been singled out in their schools, confused by warnings by some teachers not to go to McDonald’s.
We can understand peoples anger over the conflict in Gaza which has claimed thousands of innocent lives. But what we cannot accept is Malaysians venting out their anger at fellow Malaysians over what’s happening in Gaza.
McDonald’s Malaysia has ordered the removal of company logos on their delivery vehicles and some staff were advised not to wear their uniform in public. One worker narrated the attacks they suffered recently for Malaysiakini.com:
A few friends of mine have been called names and were insulted while delivering, especially while waiting at traffic lights.
Writing for Astro Awani, Zan Azlee argued that the boycott campaign is hurting the Malaysian economy:
The question that has been playing in my head is, whether the boycott works in achieving the objective of pressurising the Israeli government.
At a micro level, the first people to suffer when such a boycott takes place are our own local people who rely on these organisations to earn a living.
To be honest, by refraining from buying burgers, fries and designer coffee, it just hurts us more than it does them.
V Shuman criticized the violent protesters:
The way the fast food restaurant staff here are treated is as if they themselves brandished the machine guns and bombs that killed innocent Palestinians.
Most of these protestors hate the Israelis for one main reason – for being a big bully preying on civilians in Gaza.
In essence, the protestors are not much better for making life miserable for our own people. Who’s the big bully now?
The organizers of “Boycott McDonald’s Day” also condemned the people who caused violence at some McDonald’s branches, but they insisted that the protest on the whole was necessary and just. Ashraf Wahab, one of the leaders of the boycott movement, denied that the domestic economy will suffer from the boycott action:
Just because their share of customers shrink, it doesn’t mean the entire market shrinks too. The customers of their products will go to other products, either some local business or an international franchise. Our economy will still reap the benefits. Perhaps it’s our local business that are the ones that will profit the most.
There are differing views on the boycott, but the popular sentiment in Malaysia is in favor of the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces in Gaza. If the boycott will not succeed, it is certain that Malaysian activists will continue to organize activities and other forms of campaigning to call for the end of hostilities in Gaza.