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Israel date industry fears Ramadan boycott following Gaza bloodshed

Israel exports almost $340m of dates annually making it an important target for pro-Palestinian BDS campaigns
Israel’s bloodshed in Gaza has led to calls for a boycott of companies supporting Israeli policies (AFP)

Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza has made it increasingly difficult to sell Israeli dates in the European market in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan, according to Israeli media reports. 

About a third of annual date exports by Israeli producers occur during the month of Ramadan but fears of a boycott have led to attempts to downplay the Israeli origin of the fruit.

According to Haaretz, an advertising campaign totalling $550,000 to promote Israeli Medjool dates was shelved in response to boycott fears. 

Scrutiny towards Israeli products among Muslim communities is heightened following the bloodshed in Gaza. The conflict has resulted in almost 30,000 Palestinians being killed and more than 69,000 people being wounded by Israel in just over five months. 

"Anyone who approaches the shelf and sees that it says 'Made in Israel' will think twice,” a businessman with ties to the date industry told Haaretz. 

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“A large proportion of the dates are sold during Ramadan and wherever they [Muslim communities] can buy from someone else, they will try to punish us," he added.

Lost revenue

In recent years, there has been a growing campaign by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to apply economic pressure on Israeli companies to end the occupation. 

Given the fruit's importance in Islamic ritual during Ramadan, many Muslims try to make sure their dates are ethically sourced.

Israel is one of the largest producers of dates in the world, particularly of the popular Medjool variety of dates.

BDS-supporting groups have made a concerted effort to ensure that consumers can make an informed choice and avoid buying Israeli dates. 

"There are organisations that enter supermarkets in Europe where there are dates with our brand, and stick stickers on them saying that the buyers 'contribute to genocide',” one Israeli date producer told Haaretz. 

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign says that most of Israel’s Medjool dates are farmed in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank by Israeli settlers. 

Campaigners fighting the Israeli occupation regularly warn people that they should check the labels of where dates are from before purchasing. 

'Anyone who approaches the shelf and sees "Made in Israel" will think twice' 

Date salesman

The economic impact on Israel could be quite significant. 

Israel's 50 percent share of the Medjool market makes it one of the largest by volume in the world.

The value of date exports alone from Israel was $338m in 2022, compared to exports worth $432m for all other fruits, according to data from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture. 

In a bid to counter the boycott campaigns, Israeli producers are working with some buyers to change the labels on their products in a bid to obfuscate the origin of the dates, Haaretz reported. 

Exports of dates to Turkey plunged by 50 percent in October last year,  the market makes up about 10 percent of all date exports from Israel.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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