It was reported last week that the franchise holder of the Zara apparel chain in Israel, Joey Schwebel, hosted an election event in his home for ultranationalist Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir. The news quickly caused political uproar, with several Israeli Arab politicians expressing their outrage. Knesset member Ahmed Tibi, of the Arab Hadash-Taal party, tweeted, “The ugliness of Zara Ben-Gvir Israel.” Ben-Gvir wrote in response, “Zara, beautiful clothes, beautiful Israelis.” Taking it a few steps further was Chairman of the Arab Balad party Sami Abu Shehadeh, who announced that he wrote a letter of complaint to the CEO of Zara International, and called on foreign companies in Israel to check “the United Nation’s guiding principles regarding business and human rights.” Mayor of the Bedouin town Rahat Fayez Abu Sahiban documented himself on social media setting fire to a Zara shirt.
Still, the interesting party of this developing story is not the outcry of Israeli Arab politicians, but rather the outcry in the Israeli Arab street. Over the weekend, the protest spread quickly on social media. Many Israeli Arabs called for a boycott of Zara, using the community’s consumer power so that people think twice before supporting politicians espousing racism toward the Arab public.
Sawsan Sbait of Haifa tweeted, “Bye bye Zara, no more.” Issa Abu Ritaj of Yafia posted a reel on Facebook, saying, “We all know who Ben-Gvir is — the man who is more racist than Netanyahu and never misses an opportunity to incite against the Arab public. So, from today we must boycott the chain and think twice before buying from Zara.” There were also calls from the Israeli Jewish community, such as Limor Moyal, who tweeted, “Bye bye Zara, not coming near its stores in Israel.”
The unorganized boycott campaign seems to be efficient. Already on Oct. 23, the press reported on a downturn in sales in the Arab town of Nazareth. An unnamed Zara worker there was quoted as saying, “People haven’t come for two days already, there’s a decline of 60% … there’s a decline in sales, the Arabs aren’t coming.”
Reports since the beginning of the current election campaign predict an especially low turn-out on election day in Arab towns and villages. Clearly, the young Israeli Arab generation feels shut out of the political arena, and hasn’t found a home in existing Arab political parties, which have become an exclusive club for veteran politicians who have spent years in the political arena. But the boycott campaign indicates that despite its despair of politics, this generation is still searching for change. Thus, it finds a place online and maximizes its use of social media platforms in order to influence events. In other words, for the young Israeli Arab voters, Arab political parties are out, social networks are in.
Yanal Jabarin, of the nongovernmental organization Sikuy that promotes Arab-Jewish partnerships, discussed this phenomenon with Al-Monitor, saying, “The young Arab is not in front of the TV but [reading] Instagram stories and [watching] TikTok videos. These fill the gap in accessible centralized media that speaks to the Arab citizen. The Hebrew media especially is still far from adequate representation for Arab citizens. Thus, politically-inclined young Israeli Arabs see social media as the only place where they can fully express themselves, and criticize the political-diplomatic ranks of the state.”