What is a boycott?

Perhaps one of the earliest examples of a boycott is the decision of American settlers in 1767 to abstain from drinking British tea, as a form of protest against colonial taxes and their lack of representation in British parliament. This led to the famous Boston Tea Party.

The word ‘boycott’ is of fairly recent origin. It arises out of the actions of the Irish Land League against Anglo-Irish landowners in the 1880’s. The Irish Land League was advocating on behalf of numerous tenant farmers in Ireland against the Anglo-Irish landlords and agents who controlled the land and the political and social order. One particularly effective technique developed by the League was to ostracize land agents and those who associated with them, to the point of ensuring that labourers and servants employed by those people ceased to work for them, and were cautioned not to seek re-employment with them. This tacit proved effective, legal and non-violent. One such person to receive this treatment was Captain Charles C Boycott (1832-97) in the northern Autumn of 1880. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes from an article in the 25 September issue of the Dublin newspaper Freeman’s Journal:

“The multitude…rushed to Loughmask House, the residence of Captain Boycott, the agent on the estate, and the party against whom the popular ire was chiefly directed, and in a very short time every labourer and servant employed on or around the place was driven off and cautioned not to work there again.”

From this time on the word ‘boycott’ quickly spread internationally as a description of such non-violent action which saw the refusal of labour or refusal of association and/or investment with individuals, groups, companies or political entities with a view to seeking a change of political and economic practice.

The Uniting Church has engaged in boycott, or invited its members and others to do so in a number of instances. These include the boycott of Nestle over issues with baby formula, the boycotts of South African sports and trade during the Apartheid era, and more recently boycott and divestment from fossil fuel industries in Australia and throughout the globe. Further details of these historic activities and current boycott and divestment calls can be sourced on the UnitingJustice website.

What kind of boycott is the UCA calling for?

The Uniting Church acknowledges that there is no easy or simplistic solution to the issues and concerns of Palestinian and Israeli citizens, Jews and Muslims and the wider world community over the history and ongoing issues in Israel-Palestine. The Uniting Church has made a number of statements regarding Palestine-Israel (Prayer for Peace, Palestine motion 2015 links?). It has also made key statements regarding Jews and Judaism (Statement Inviting the Uniting Church to Dialogue with the Jewish Community 1997, Jews and Judaism 2009).

Through the Assembly, the Uniting Church has stated:

  • that the State of Israel and a Palestinian State each have the right to live side by side in peace and security;
  • to be vigilant in resisting antisemitism and anti-Judaism in church and society;
  • to pray and work for a just and lasting peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. (Jews and Judaism 2009)

At the 2015 National Assembly, the UCA passed a number of resolutions related to Israel Palestine, including the following:

“the Uniting Church has resolved to support a boycott of goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements within the occupied territories.” (These are the territories invaded by Israel in the 1967 war and referred to in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.)

The Uniting Church has chosen not to align itself with the wider BDS (Boycott Divestment Strategy) movement as this movement supports the boycott and divestment of all produce (including academic interaction and intellectual property) from the State of Israel. At this stage, particularly mindful of dialogue concerns, the UCA, wishes to restrict its boycott to goods produced on stolen land.

The Uniting Church is aware that there are a variety of views within Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian and Christian communities regarding boycotts. There are some, such as Jewish Voice for Peace who support a full boycott (as well as individuals such as Naomi Klein), whereas the Australian Jewish Democratic Society supports only a settlement boycott. Other organisations, such as J-Street, are opposed to a full boycott, but have no formal position on boycott of settlement goods.

We are also in formal dialogue with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry who indicate that many of their members disagree with any boycotts.

The Uniting Church does not wish to deter members from purchasing goods made, manufactured and exported by Palestinian individuals or companies from within the Occupied Territories, in fact, we would seek to encourage such action. And given the commitments of the Uniting Church to a two-state solution, and to resisting antisemitism and anti-Judaism in church and society, the Uniting Church has carefully phrased its resolutions in support of any boycott of goods to limit this solely to goods produced within illegal Israeli settlements within the Occupied Territories. Whilst we acknowledge that this makes the boycott more difficult for consumers, it is also a way forward that allows some political and economic pressure to be exerted on the government of the State of Israel whilst seeking to minimize damage to the Palestinian workforce and seeking to ensure the Church lives up to its past statements and commitments.

Want to learn more?

This website, developed by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society has more information on settlement goods http://dontbuysettlementproducts.org.au/