Two weeks ago, the Dutch public learned of what appeared to be an unprecedented victory for European advocates of boycotting Israeli products. Four major supermarket chains reportedly declared a boycott of products from the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
But the “victory,” as some activists in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement called it, was short lived.
Days later, the international supermarket chains Aldi and Hema, along with the smaller Hoogvliet and Jumbo chains, distanced themselves from the boycott they were said to be enacting. According to the companies, the reports owed to a corporate error or inaccurate reporting.
Yet spokespeople for the four chains also acknowledged that their stocks currently include no products from Israeli settlements.
That allowed both Israel’s supporters and its critics to claim victory in a fight that is quickly spreading across the continent, as various European groups have sought to use their economic power as leverage to oppose Israeli settlements they consider illegal.
“The chains’ hurried about-face proves the failure of attempts by anti-Israel groups to single Israel out for criticism in the supermarket,” said Esther Voet, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, a pro-Israel lobby group based in The Hague.
But Sander Becker, a reporter for the Trouw daily, which broke news of the supposed boycott, said the affair may have exposed the existence of a “silent boycott” in which stores keep settlement products from the shelves but don’t admit to what they are doing.
Companies may “shun products from settlements while publicly claiming it’s because of ‘price, quality and availability’ — the three harmless [parameters] stipulated in statements by all the supermarket chains,” Becker said.