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Why are there calls for boycott against Zara in Israel?

Spanish fast-fashion giant Zara has been facing calls for boycott in Israel, after a franchise owner Joey Schwebel from the country hosted far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir for a campaign event. Many Arab Israelis took to Twitter, where they posted videos of themselves setting the company’s clothes on fire with the hashtag #boycottZara.

Fayez Abu Sahiban, mayor of the Arab-majority town of Raha, joined the protest and called Zara “fascist” over Schwebel’s support of the leader, Times of Israel reported.

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How did the calls for boycott begin?

The protests began after Joey Schwebel — who holds Canadian and Israli citizenship, hosted Ben-Gvir at his house in the city of Ra’anana in central Israel on October 20, Times of Israel reported.

Schwebel is the chairman of Trimera Brands, a fashion distributor which is the franchise holder of Zara in Israel. According to Reuters, Zara has 24 stores in the country.

Festive offer

After local media reported about the meeting between Schwebel and Ben-Gvir, Arab Israeli began their protests. It gained traction in light of the upcoming Knesset elections that will be held on November 1, in which Ben-Gvir’s far-right political party is likely to win a number of seats.

Who is Itamar Ben-Gvir

Ben Gvir is a member of the Knesset and head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength), a far-right political party that has been labelled ultra-nationalist and anti-Arab.

Born to Iraqi-Jewish parents in Mevaseret Zion, a suburb of Jerusalem, Ben-Gvir at a young age joined Kach, an ultra-nationalist faction led by US-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meir Kahane, who Ben-Gvir reportedly continues to praise, had called for the removal of Arab citizens from Israel and the erosion of their citizenship rights. His party was later banned form the Knesset and was classified as a terrorist organisation in 1994.

Ben-Gvir, who had opposed the peace process between Israel and Palestine, became famous in 1995 when he was filmed holding the Cadillac emblem from the car of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords, Guardian reported.

“Just as we got to his car, we’ll get to him too,” he told reporters. Weeks later, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist.

As a lawyer, Ben-Gvir has defended a number of Jewish suspects accused of terrorism and hate crimes against Palestinians. While he has claimed to have dialled down some of his political views, Ben-Gvir recently found himself amidst controversy after drawing a gun during clashes between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on October 20.

While he did not fire the gun, he called on the police to use live fire on Arabs throwing stones, a day after he threatened to “mow down” some Palistinians during a visit to Sheikh Jarrah, The Times of Israel reported.

Likely electoral victory

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Polls have suggested that Ben-Gvir’s nationalist alliance is likely going to win up to 14 seats in the 120-seat Knesset in Israel’s fifth elections in four years. This would make his alliance the third largest in the parliament, and help him secure a senior ministerial post if other conservative parties are able to get enough seats to establish a coalition government, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Former President Benjamin Netanyahu and current leader of opposition had earlier stated that Ben-Gvir was “unfit” to hold a ministerial post.

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Netanyahu, who seeks to regain his post after being ousted in 2021, has since changed his position. When recently asked if the far-right leader could join his planned right-wing government, Netanyahu stated, “He certainly can; anyone can,” The Times of Israel reported.

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