Japan’s first BDS victory (and what this says about Asia)

In April of this year, Japanese retailer Ryohin Keikaku Co. announced plans to launch the first Mujirushi Ryohin (MUJI) store in Israel in 2011. However, criticism from both Japan’s lively internet community as well as pro-Palestinian peace activists prompted Ryohin Keikaku Co. to reverse its decision and cancel the launch of the Israel-based MUJI store.

Activists in Japan quickly called for a boycott of MUJI’s clothes and household goods. The campaign referenced Israel’s deadly raid against a Gaza-bound aid flotilla and staged pickets in front of malls located in Japan’s metropolitan Tokyo region (pictures at the bottom of the post).The Global BDS Movement and the Palestine Forum of Japan both view this as Japan’s first major BDS victory.

Considering the fact that most reported BDS activity occurs in America and Europe, the efforts in Japan introduce Asia as a relatively new front for pro-Palestinian activism, particularly when it comes to academic and cultural boycotts against enterprises that profit from Israel’s military occupation.

In a few precursory Google searches, I couldn’t find any substantial evidence of prior BDS-like activism in Asia. This is not to discount pan-Asian solidarity with Palestine. Korea boasts a relatively large pro-Palestinian community strengthened by national organizations based in Seoul. Chinese politicians have vocally criticized Israeli policy on a number of occasions, particularly after Israel’s 22-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009. Other examples undoubtedly exist, but Japan’s BDS victory marks the first of its kind in that general region.

There appears to be very limited commercial expansion into Israel from Asia but this shouldn’t discourage non-violent resistance against a government legalizing the displacement of millions of Palestinians. The BDS movement in Asia may still be young but even the youngest and smallest of efforts are capable of forcing companies to rethink their investments.

Japanese activists stage a mock Israeli checkpoint in front of a Tokyo-based mall. Photo credit: Palestine Forum Japan and Joseph Dana's report

Protesters hold a sign in front of a MUJI storefront

Image of a postcard distributed by activists during protests in front of MUJI storefronts

For more detailed reports, read the Palestine Forum’s statement and visit Joseph Dana’s post.

Sami Kishawi

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