Tunisians Boycott Israel-linked Products

Protesters burn an Israeli flag at a demonstration in downtown Tunis on October 20, 2023. Photo by Chahd Lina Belhadj.

Since Israel launched its genocidal war campaign following Palestinians’ October 7 Al Aqsa Flood military operation, many around the world watching on have been trying to find effective ways they can help stop the slaughter or mitigate the suffering in Gaza.

Calls by some in Tunisia to mobilize Arab armies have so far gone unheeded by authorities, while calls to collect humanitarian aid seems relatively ineffective, as the Zionist occupation has maintained a strict control over all entry points into and out of Gaza in a blockade it has imposed since at least 2006; that blockade was intensified after October 7, when Israel cut off all water, electricity, and communications networks, with only a trickle of humanitarian aid allowed in following international pressure.

Protests and demonstrations that have taken place in Tunisia since October 7, although important, remain largely a demonstration of the right to expression, tightly controlled by local authorities who have so far prevented protesters from reaching the embassies of the countries that are arming and supporting the genocide. What then is left for Tunisians to do, to echo the title and theme of Ghassan Kanafani’s 1966 novella “All That’s Left to You”?

Many have instead turned to boycotting Israeli goods and commercial companies supporting Israel, a tactic that has gained popularity in the last decade. Yet this tactic prompts significant questions about which companies to boycott, how to implement the boycott, and in the case of Tunisia, a country of only 12 million, how much impact can Tunisian consumers have on when it comes to multinational brands and corporations?

Meshkal asked several Tunisians of different background in Tunis, Nabeul and those living abroad about their perspectives on a boycott.


Linda Mezni, a law student from Tunis has been an activist on Palestine both on social media and on the ground.

“We attended almost every demonstration. We created a [Facebook] Messenger group and coordinated between us to take more steps. It was my idea, along with my friends, to take action beyond just screaming in the streets. We wanted to be more practical,” Mezni told Meshkal. Those friends who joined Mezni include Rihem Maghrbi, Arij Abidi, Houssem Naweli, Ahmed Boughanda, and Chahinez Boumaya.

The group decided to put stickers that look like the price stickers on supermarket shelves in Tunis next to their real sticker prices with phrases like “This product is made with Palestinian blood,” “You are paying for Israel’s weapons,” and other similar phrases. They targeted branches of the Monoprix supermarket in the Menzah 1, Ariana, and Bardo neighborhoods, branches of the Aziza supermarket in the Ezzahrouni and Ariana neighborhoods, and a Géant supermarket.

A screenshot from a TikTok video posted by Linda Mezni and the group of activists that got together to protest Israeli-linked products at supermarkets in Tunis.

“We figured such intense phrases would definitely push customers to replace those products with other national ones,” Mezni said, meaning Tunisian-produced alternatives.

The group faced various types of reactions from security agents, managers and even customers. According to Mezni, some employees saw what they were doing and pretended that they hadn’t. At the Aziza market in Ezzahrouni, the stickers remained up for days before they were finally removed. Other managers asked them to leave the premises.

“In Géant, we were shocked by the reaction of the workers there. We found ourselves surrounded by nearly ten people interrogating us severely. And then afterwards, when we thought everything was over and they let us out, we found two police officers waiting for us,” Mezni recounted.

Mezni said that police asked for their IDs and  asked them to not repeat it because they may face serious trouble. Mezni added that the police reacted mildly and with understanding because “this is everybody’s cause. They can’t be opposed to it.”

As for how to be effective in raising awareness among Tunisian customers, she said she believes the boycott weapon can be made strong if they continue their activism with a good balance between the virtual and the real spheres with an aim to establishing concrete and organized movements.

“The TikTok video we uploaded showing our action in supermarkets reached more than 300 thousand views, and a huge number of followers were asking [questions] and reacting to products they had no idea they were Israeli supporters,” Mezni said, referring to a video Mezni shared on her personal TikTok account (Linda_mezni).

A screenshot from a TikTok video posted by Linda Mezni of the group of activists that got together to protest Israeli-linked products at supermarkets in Tunis.


When it comes to the possibility of collective, engaged action, many may find it easy and even thrilling, or aesthetically pleasant to participate in a just cause. However, many will also think twice when such activism demands moving against one’s own personal financial interests.

According to the Boycott, Divesment, Sanction (BDS) national committee, the French multinational supermarket chain Carrefour is a “genocide enabler,” noting the well-documented support the company has given to “Israeli soldiers partaking in the unfolding genocide of Palestinians in Gaza with gifts of personal packages.”

Eya Jbeilia, a marketing manager at Carrefour Market in Tunisia, said that the management of the Tunisian branch of Carrefour decided to allow protestors at some branches in Tunis to enter the stores, wave Palestinian flags, and express their anger towards customers who were shopping there in protests that occurred between October 20 to 31.

Jbeilia said she thinks that people should boycot Israeli products in order to put pressure on chains to stop selling them. But on the other hand, she said that Tunisians have to keep in mind the national economy, because if Tunisians decide to boycott French products as well, the list will be much longer than just Carrefour. She also shared concerns about the potential effect on Tunisian jobs, which she fears might be lost if boycotted brands stopped their commerce in Tunisia.

While Jebeilia’s concerns about the economy offer one side of the argument, on the other side many activists and scholars for food sovereignty have long called for a shift away from Tunisia’s current dependence on foreign imports of foodstuffs to help the economy and especially small farmers.

Days before Meshkal interviewed Jbeilia, Carrefour opened a massive branch on October 26 inside a new big mall in Sfax which opened its doors the same day.

Meshkal asked if there had been any effects on sales due to calls for boycotts, and if the new Carrefour branch in Sfax was meeting its initial sales targets.

“It was a little less than expected, even to this day. Carrefour of Sfax mall makes a turnover less than” one of the much smaller-sized Carrefour branches, “which is very serious for them.”

But it’s not just big corporate companies that sell goods linked to Israel. Small businesses also sell many products that activists have called people to boycott.

Meshkal had a quick chat with Mokhtar, a young corner shop owner in Nabeul. I asked to purchase a soda bottle and asked Mokhtar if he had brands other than Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite (all produced by the Coca Cola company), noting that these brands are considered supportive of Israel during its current genocide campaign. Mokhtar, apparently offended, grabbed my jacket and said: “And this, this you are wearing, where do you think we got it from?”

After a couple of questions and defusing the tension, Mokhtar explained his reaction. He said that he believes Arabs are in complete dependence to the West, and any attempts to break free or boycott their power mechanisms will only make the situation worse by harming Tunisia’s already fragile economy, including small businesses that are barely surviving such as his small store.

Mokhtar’s position seems to highlight a potential class of Tunisians who would oppose a boycott campaign: some consumers; managers, and stockholders who are involved in trade and especially in importing multinational brands. This argument would seem to prioritize the short-term national interest and the status of local workers, buttressed by a secondary argument that boycotting is a pointless gesture that has no chance in changing the order of things, according to Mokhtar and Jbeilia.


But Tunisia’s own history points to boycotts as having an effective role in the national struggle. In February 1912, Arabs in Tunis operated a boycott movement against the Italian company operating the local trams after an Italian tram driver ran over a Tunisian child, killing him. The company, like many during France’s colonization of Tunisia, hired mostly Europeans settlers, especially Italians, and paid its employees better than its Arab ones.

Although this movement ended dramatically, with the colonial authorities exiling the leaders of the nationalist Young Tunisians movement [Harakat Al-Chabab Al-Tounssi], it was an early example of a well-coordinated boycott campaign in the Arab world.

Other national liberation movements also saw the use of the boycott tactic. In India, Ghandi’s early involvement in the national liberation struggle began by boycotting British textiles in 1920. In South Africa, the apartheid system was put under severe strain after international boycotts were implemented.

Those earlier implementations of successful boycotts—organized before the emergence of mass media tools and under direct colonial rule—raises the question of what barriers there are to today’s boycott campaigns? With the vivid images of the genocide campaign against Palestinians and its daily implementation available to all via social media, what more work do activists need to do to convince a consumer to replace one biscuit brand with another?

One example of a boycott campaign with mixed success has been that of the Ardjan nightclub complex. In June 2021, a group of former Ardjan workers launched an online campaign through a Facebook group calling on customers to boycott the complex over what they alleged were workplace violations and harassment of workers. A few weeks later, customers who claimed they were disrespected at the doors by bouncers.At the time, Ardjan’s managers were forced to announce a training session for their bouncers,, and the “Boycott Ardjan” movement  slowly faded away.

However the boycott campaign was resparked when the owner of the compex, Patrick Sebag, a Tunisian with close ties to Israel, came under public scrutiny. In a widely shared 2005 interview with the Jerusalem Post during a private dinner in Tunis with two visiting Israeli ministers (an apparent breach of Tunisia’s cutting of diplomatic ties with Israel), Sebag revealed that he planned to move to Israel. Sebag has subsequently claimed he was misrepresented in that article. In a recent public Facebook post (now deleted) responding to criticisms about his ties to Israel, Sebag claimed that the “profits of his businesses have never financed a particular army or organization.”

Screenshot of a now-deleted public Facebook post by Patrick Sebag soon after October 7, 2023.

On October 19, authorities revoked Ardjan’s authorization, although that decision appears to be tied to well-documented investigations into Ardjan’s alleged tax and building code violations. This appears the fruit not so much of a popular boycott movement, but rather a top-down political decision.

Meshkal documented last year how activists pushed for boycotts of Tunisian tourism companies and legal action against them for offering travel between Tunisia and Israel. And Tunisians are continuing to target consumer goods for their positions on the genocide campaign. For example, several protests were held in Tunis beginning Monday, December 11 in front of a branch of Zara, an international clothing chain store, after a Zara ad campaign used imagery that looked like the destruction in Gaza after Israeli airstrikes. After thousands of people shared the images and made the hashtag #BoycottZara trend on social media, Zara pulled the ad campaign. In Tunis, protesters threw red paint onto the Zara outlet.

A photo of a branch of the Zara clothing shop in Tunis, by Hichem Ben Boubaker, posted on the “Red triangle” Facebook page on December 11, 2023.

But it remains an open question whether the protest campaign will have any long term effect on Zara’s sales and consumers’ decisions in Tunisia. Meanwhile, at least one protester, Wael Naouar, is facing charges for his participation in the protest against Zara, including, according to him, charges of “contempt of an official” (Article 125 of the penal code) as well as, “severe violent assault on an official – security officer,” “threats that require punishment,” and a charge from Zara for “obstructing the freedom to work.”

While Naouar appeared before court for a preliminary hearing on January 4, he is scheduled to appear again for trial at a date not yet set as this article went to publication, although he claimed he was not being held in prison while awaiting trial.


Despite the activism in Tunisia, Asma Bouzayen, a Tunisian art student living in Rome, said she feels Italians have been more engaged in protesting Israel’s actions than the Arab diaspora living there.

“During the first days of the war, I joined call for a march and protest organized by BDS.I was expecting to find myself surrounded by a majority of Arab immigrants, but it was shocking and sad to me that I was the only Tunisian, and probably the only Arab standing there,” Bouzayen said.

The BDS movement has had an important number of victories around the world since its launch in 2005, with serious effects on the Israeli economy. While there had been momentum by activists pushing for Tunisia’s parliament to pass legislation to criminalize trade and all other relations with Israel, this seems to have stalled after pushback from the government. In the absence of criminalization, trade between Tunisian companies like Randa and Israel has not yet become the target of a sustained boycott movement.


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