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OPINIONSocietyMay 22, 2024

If you want to actually help people in Gaza, don’t just block celebs. Do BDS

Photograph of Taylor Swift in a sparkly dress with a watermelon covering her head
Sorry Taylor you’re blocked.

Social media stars are being targeted by a campaign aimed at drawing attention to the bombing of Palestinian civilians. Gabi Lardies looks at what the ‘blockout’ hopes to achieve, and the alternative way to boycott.

On May 6, celebrities flocked to the Met Gala wearing tulle, crystals, lace and lamé. On the same day, the Israeli military told residents in Rafah, where over a million Palestinians have fled bombing further north, to “evacuate immediately”, raising fears a long-threatened invasion of the city was about to happen.

Social media denizens did not miss the juxtaposition. Red carpet images were placed alongside images of war, captioned with sentiments like “true dystopia”, and circulated on platforms like Instagram, X and TikTok. Then came the call, widely attributed to TikToker @blockout2024, to block celebrities who hadn’t used their platform to condemn Israel for the bombing of civilians.

The theory is simple. Social media is an attention-based economy where likes, views, comments and shares are capital. By removing our attention from celebrities, they make less ad revenue. The online campaign – dubbed blackout2024 or the digital guillotine, aka “the digitine” – took off. Some of the most popular celebrities on the block list like Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift have lost hundreds of thousands of followers – granted, a drop in the bucket for their massive social media accounts.

There has been criticism of the block lists for absorbing attention that would be better directed at actual news from Gaza. Others have noted that calls for celebrity boycotts are largely not coming from Palestinians themselves.


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What makes the blackout so appealing to many is that a small individual action can grow into a global movement as more and more people join, or rather, block. It’s an opportunity to participate in people power, or true grassroots activism.

But there’s another movement, with the same aims, that has been around much longer, and that Palestinians have been asking people to join for years. That movement is BDS, or boycott, divest and sanction. They’re words that have been chanted across the world at rallies and marches in support of Palestine’s freedom. But what do they call us to do, exactly?

What is BDS?

The BDS movement launched in July 2005 with the support of 170 Palestinian organisations. It calls for people, companies and governments around the world to stop financially supporting Israel by boycotting their products, removing financial investments (“divesting”), and imposing sanctions on trade. In doing so, the movement hopes to put non-violent pressure on Israel until a list of demands is met. 

According to the BDS website, the list consists of just three demands: ending the Israeli occupation, recognising the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel as equal, and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Today, BDS is being utilised around the world, alongside other forms of protest, to call for a ceasefire now and a free Palestine.

Placard at port picket, 23 November 2023, Ports of Auckland. (Photo: Gabi Lardies).

What’s on the BDS Boycott list?

So. Many. Things. The products on the BDS list are so numerous that they risk overwhelming and confusing consumers. Organisers’ solution to our weakness is to focus our efforts by narrowing the targets. Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa (PSNA) have selected their “big six” – companies which PSNA say are particularly complicit in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The first line of attack is to simply not buy or consume products from these companies:

Obela Hummus

An easy boycott, considering there are so many other hummus and dip options available!

Ahava skin care products

Same as above. Also, all you really need is rosehip oil from head to toe.


You may already own a Sodastream, and it would be wasteful and unnecessary to throw it away. Instead, simply change where you get your gas canisters by replacing classic blue SodaStream bottles with Oh Bubbles refill cylinders. And don’t buy a new Sodastream either. 

HP (Hewlett-Packard) 

Printers never work anyway, right?

BP and Caltex

No more Wild Bean coffees, which are surprisingly good. May I suggest Hardware Cafe instead?


Big Macs are the best burger in the world, but just remind yourself how afterwards you get the feeling there’s a hot hard cannonball in your stomach. Go to the local chippy instead.

For the overachievers

If you want to go beyond the big six, Halal Kiwi has a more complete online boycott list (though its factual accuracy has been questioned), and the free app Buycott can make decisions easier at the supermarket. 

BDS Stickering in New Zealand supermarkets, November 2023. (Photo:Supplied).

What about divesting?

Have a look into where your investments, like KiwiSaver, are going. This can be a tricky and convoluted process, so online tools like Mindful Money are being used to check funds and make changes accordingly. 

And sanctions?

The final letter of BDS stands for sanctions, and that requires government action. You can email or call your electorate MP​ to find out where they stand – and tell them where you, their constituent, stand – or attend events where they’re speaking and ask those questions publicly. PSNA has a list of contacts for MPs and suggests emailing the foreign affairs minister, party leaders and MPs on the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee too.

Is there anything else I should be doing?

Yes – bring out your inner Karen and complain. In particular, complain to your local supermarket if they’re stocking Obela hummus. PSNA suggest “requesting the Obela products be removed for sale from the store due to its parent companies, Strauss and Sabra, being directly involved in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” The PSNA website advises going to the information desk to lodge an official customer complaint. Foodstuffs supermarkets should have product complaint forms, one page long, where you can state the product you’re complaining about and why. If the Karen in you is strong, request that the complaint be escalated to the head office.

Does BDS work?

Historically, yes, at least to some extent. BDS was inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement which used consumer boycotting as a constant element in the fight against apartheid from outside of South Africa. That movement also aimed to isolate South Africa by lobbying for exclusion from sporting and cultural events, and ending military and diplomatic links. Many experts partly attribute the end of South African apartheid to external pressures such as boycotts and sanctions.

In Israel, BDS has already had some effect. Internationally, McDonalds missed its quarterly sales target at the end of last year, explaining that “misinformation” around the Israel-Palestine conflict had “meaningfully impacted” its sales performance.

Previously high-profile companies like Ben & Jerry’s have stopped selling their products in the occupied territories. Others have changed their production operations, including Sodastream, which moved its factory out of the West Bank in 2014. In 2018, Israelis were deprived of a Lorde performance following a public campaign against the concert. Still, the Israeli economy chugged on, and so did the occupation. 

The impact the BDS movement could have on Israel’s economy and actions is contested. Still, consumer pressure is more direct than blocking celebrities on social media, and is an action anyone can take.

Keep going!