Opinions & Commentary

Buying a ‘Free Palestine’ T-shirt is not a political act

Three major online retailers – Sears, Walmart and Amazon – found themselves the target of Jewish ire last week when consumers discovered they were selling products bearing pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist messages.

Entrepreneurial designers of apparel, device accoutrements and miscellany applied “Free Palestine” and “End the Israeli occupation” words and images, then marketed their wares on the aforementioned websites.

The messaging appeared on a range of easily mass-produced items, including T-shirts, hoodies, baseball caps and cell phone covers.

Upon receiving complaints, and under threat of boycott, Sears and even Walmart – not the most socially sensitive concern – blocked the sale of the offending products. As of this writing, Amazon had not.

Those who support the sale of these goods – or rather, those who oppose prohibiting it – do so on free speech grounds; that is, entrepreneurs have the right to make products with pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist political statements, and consumers have the right to buy products with pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist political statements.

Despite the words and images that decorate them, though, these goods do not promote pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist ideology so much as they are commercial products that have appropriated a political message.

Unlike a charity, where a portion of the sale might go to a cause, money spent on this merchandise does not likely find its way to finance the Palestinians’ struggle. Rather, the largest part of the cost goes to the print shop that manufactured the product; the next part goes to the online distributor; and the smallest part goes to the entrepreneur.

Nor are these entrepreneurs necessarily Palestinian sympathizers. They are capitalists, whose products typically express a wide range of contradictory messages, some political and many not.

Finally, we must question the degree to which dressing an infant in a “Free Palestine” onesie or sipping a latte from an “End the Israeli occupation” coffee mug is an act that promotes a political movement.

Just the opposite, it seems to us: overexposure to any message – especially contentious political messages, especially in inappropriate, even absurd contexts – encourages disenchantment with and ultimately disengagement from the cause. Such is the fickle nature of contemporary consumers.

Let us also not forget that regardless of how flippantly they are expressed, such messages are misleading, offensive and do promote an anti-Israel philosophy. “Palestine,” such as it is, is not occupied; it is not yet a state, mainly because of the Palestinians’ support of terrorism and their refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

In the matter at hand, we acknowledge the efforts of those who resist anti- Israel sentiment, wherever they find it and however absurd a form it may take; while also noting the profound difference between a fad and a destiny.



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