British Muslims ramp up boycott of Israeli dates during Ramadan

Protesters hold a banner promoting the #CheckTheLabel boycott campaign of Israeli dates in the United Kingdom. (FOA)
Protesters hold a banner promoting the #CheckTheLabel boycott campaign of Israeli dates in the United Kingdom. (FOA)
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Updated 12 March 2024
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British Muslims ramp up boycott of Israeli dates during Ramadan

Protesters hold a banner promoting the #CheckTheLabel boycott campaign of Israeli dates in the United Kingdom. (FOA)
  • Advocacy group encouraging imams in local mosques to address the boycott in sermons during the holy month
  • HRW has documented the exploitation of Palestinian labor in the Israeli date industry

LONDON: British Muslims usually check supermarket labels to ensure their purchases are halal. This Ramadan, however, they are also checking to see where their dates are grown.

Muslims typically break their fast with the sweet fruit, following in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. This year, against the backdrop of the war in Gaza, British Muslims are keen to avoid buying Israeli dates.

The UK is reportedly the second-biggest importer of Israeli dates in Europe, and, in 2020, imported more than 3,000 tons of dates from Israel, worth about £7.5 million ($9.6 million), according to statistics released by Friends of Al-Aqsa.

For more than 14 years, FOA has led the #CheckTheLabel boycott campaign to raise awareness among consumers who are unknowingly buying Israeli dates.

The campaign has focused on Muslims during Ramadan — a time of surging Israeli date sales in Europe.

As part of its campaign, the advocacy group has encouraged imams in local mosques to address the boycott in their sermons during the holy month.

“Mosques are very important during Ramadan to push that message of unity and encourage people to be ethical consumers,” Shamiul Joarder of FOA said.

“The campaign is always received really well. No one wants to knowingly break their fast with Israeli dates, with produce that helps sustain the illegal occupation of stolen land,” he added.

Israel’s illegal occupation has forced many Palestinians to work under degrading conditions on settlement farms.

Human Rights Watch has documented the exploitation of Palestinian labor in the Israeli date industry, including children as young as 11 exposed to harmful pesticides and women enduring long hours in harsh conditions.

The boycott movement has gained momentum in the UK over the years, especially in the context of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza, which has killed more than 30,000 people since October 2023.

Abbas, a London-based Iraqi designer, told Arab News about the prevalence of Israeli dates in the UK.

“I’d always assumed they were produced in Arab countries,” the 21-year-old said, adding that social media in recent months had helped him become aware of the importance of checking labels.

Meanwhile, Joarder warned that Israeli exporters are hiding the origins of dates to “deliberately mislead” consumers.

“I stick to buying my dates from one company I know that is Saudi. That way, I don’t end up accidentally buying from Israeli brands,” Soha, a 52-year-old British Muslim, told Arab News.

Equally, there has been a push in the UK to promote Palestinian date consumption, which has been adversely affected by the growth of the Israeli date industry.

Islamic charity Penny Appeal has been selling dates ethically sourced from Jericho, which helps to provide a crucial livelihood to Palestinian farmers.

“We are certainly noticing that Muslim consumers are much more careful about buying dates. We receive calls and emails every day asking us to prove our dates are Palestinian,” Ahmad Bostan of Penny Appeal told Arab News.

Zaytoun, a UK-based social enterprise that supports producers in Palestine, said that the proliferation of affordable medjoul dates in the UK has prompted consumers to compare pricing.

“Farming and trading under occupation results in higher costs, and Palestinian growers lack the economies of scale that typically reduce production costs,” the organization, which reinvests 100 percent of its profits into its mission, told Arab News.

Despite this, Zaytoun has experienced an “overwhelming surge in support” for its Palestinian products, which are now featured in major UK retailers like Selfridges, Fenwicks and Whole Foods Market.

“Beyond the direct cultivation of dates, the date sector creates employment opportunities in related industries such as sorting, processing, packing, printing, packaging, refrigeration, haulage, logistics and more,” the organization said.

“By contributing to the growth of the date sector, consumers actively contribute to the broader economic development of Palestine, fostering resilience in the face of challenging conditions.”


A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an
Updated 52 min 26 sec ago
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A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an

A mob in Pakistan burns down a house and beats a Christian over alleged desecration of Qur’an
  • The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha
  • Police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men

LAHORE: Hundreds of Muslims in eastern Pakistan went on a rampage over allegations that a Christian man had desecrated the pages of Islam’s holy book, ransacking and burning his house and beating him before police officers rescued the man and his father, officials said.
The incident occurred Saturday in the Mujahid Colony residential area in Sargodha, a city in Punjab province, said district police chief Ijaz Malhi. He said police quickly responded and saved the lives of the two men.
Malhi said the situation was under control and officers were investigating the allegations.
The incident brought back memories of one of the worst attacks on Christians in Pakistan in August 2023, when angry mobs burned churches and attacked dozens in Jaranwala, a district in Punjab province. Muslim residents claimed they saw a Christian and his friend tearing out pages from a Qur’an and throwing them on the ground. No one was killed. In 2009, six Christians were killed and some 60 homes burned down in the district of Gojra in Punjab following allegations of insults to Islam.
Malhi said police on Saturday dispersed the crowds and were also seeking help from religious scholars to defuse tensions. The Punjab government condemned the attack.
The man’s small shoemaking factory was also burned down, Malhi said.
Blasphemy accusations are common in Pakistan.
Under the country’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam or Islamic religious figures can be sentenced to death. While no one has been executed for blasphemy, often just an accusation can cause riots and incite mobs to violence, lynching and killings.


More than 10,000 people reach UK on small boats since January

More than 10,000 people reach UK on small boats since January
Updated 25 May 2024
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More than 10,000 people reach UK on small boats since January

More than 10,000 people reach UK on small boats since January
  • The latest numbers on a government website showed 10,170 arrived between January and May 25
  • The plan has been bogged down by legal obstacles for more than two years

LONDON: More than 10,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Britain in small boats so far this year, updated government data showed on Saturday, underlining a key challenge facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ahead of a July 4 national election.
The number of people landing on England’s southern beaches after making the dangerous Channel crossing fell by a third in 2023, but the latest numbers on a government website showed 10,170 arrived between January and May 25, up from 7,395 over the same period last year.
Sunak, who announced the election date on Wednesday, said later this week that asylum seekers who come to Britain illegally would not be deported to Rwanda before the vote — casting doubt on one of his Conservative Party’s flagship policies.
The plan has been bogged down by legal obstacles for more than two years, and the opposition Labour Party, which is about 20 points ahead in opinion polls and seen on track to end 14 years of Conservative rule, has promised to scrap the policy if it wins the election.
Labour’s shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said Sunak’s government had not done enough to tackle the issue.
“Because all the government’s efforts are now focused on getting a few hundred people flown to Rwanda, they have lost sight of the thousands more who are crossing the Channel every month,” Kinnock said in a statement.
Labour has said if elected it would create a Border Security Command that would bring together staff from the police, the domestic intelligence agency and prosecutors to work with international agencies to stop people smuggling.


Supporters, opponents of Tehran clash in London

Supporters, opponents of Tehran clash in London
Updated 25 May 2024
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Supporters, opponents of Tehran clash in London

Supporters, opponents of Tehran clash in London
  • Event to mark death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi descends into violence
  • 4 injured, 1 arrested: Metropolitan Police

LONDON: Clashes in London between supporters and opponents of Iran’s government on Friday left four people with injuries, Sky News reported on Saturday.

One person was arrested on suspicion of violent disorder following the clashes.

Metropolitan Police officers were called to the scene at about 6 p.m. following reports of violence.

Pro-Tehran demonstrators had held an event to mark the death of President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last week.

Outside the venue, anti-Tehran protesters held a counter-demonstration, and clashes broke out between the two sides.

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said four people were treated by paramedics for injuries. “Their injuries are not believed to be either life threatening or life changing,” the spokesperson added.

“Further inquiries will now follow to establish what further offences took place and to identify those involved.”


G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine
Updated 25 May 2024
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G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

G7 says will try to use frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

STRESA: The G7 will explore ways of using the future income from frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine, finance chiefs from the Group of Seven industrial democracies said on Saturday, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.
The G7 froze some $300 billion of Russian assets shortly after Moscow invaded its neighbor in February 2022.
“We are making progress in our discussions on potential avenues to bring forward the extraordinary profits stemming from immobilized Russian sovereign assets to the benefit of Ukraine,” the draft statement said.
The statement will not undergo significant changes before a final version to be released later on Saturday, a G7 source said.


Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term

Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term
Updated 25 May 2024
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Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term

Millions vote in India’s grueling election with Modi’s party likely to win a third term
  • Next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47° Celsius in the capital New Delhi
  • More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indians are voting Saturday in the next-to-last round of a grueling national election with a combined opposition trying to rattle Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign for a third-consecutive term for himself and his Hindu nationalist party.
Many people lined polling stations before the start of voting at 7 a.m. to avoid the blazing sun later in the day at the peak of Indian summer. The temperature soared to 43 Celsius (109.4 Fahrenheit) in the afternoon in the Indian capital.
Lakshmi Bansal, a housewife, said while the weather was hot, people usually went out to shop and even attend festivals is such heat.
“This (election) is also like a festival, so I don’t have a problem voting in the heat,” Bansal said.
Saturday’s voting in 58 constituencies, including seven in New Delhi, will complete polling for 89.5 percent of 543 seats in the lower house of Parliament.
The voting for the remaining 57 seats on June 1 will wrap up a six-week election. The votes will be counted on June 4.
President Droupadi Murmu and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar were among the early voters. Opposition Congress party leaders, Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi, also voted in New Delhi.
Mehbooba Mufti, a former top elected official of Indian-controlled Kashmir, held a protest with her supporters Saturday claiming that scores of her party workers were detained by the police to prevent them from voting. Mufti, the chief of the People’s Democratic Party who is contesting the parliamentary election in the Anantnag-Rajouri district, said she complained to election officials.
In West Bengal state, workers belonging to the All India Trinamool Congress party, blocked the car of Agnimitra Paul, one of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party candidates, as she proceeded to vote in Medinipur constituency. The two parties are rivals in the state and their workers often clash on the streets.
This election is considered one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test Modi’s political dominance. If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
A less-than-expected voter turnout in the previous five rounds of voting seems to have left both sides guessing about the outcome of the election.
Election authorities said they are taking steps to ensure voters’ comfort, such as setting up fans and tents and providing drinking water.
Most polls predict a win for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which is up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
Modi was involved in a highly acrimonious and mudslinging campaign with the opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has produced three prime ministers.
“When the polls began it felt like a one-horse race, with Modi leading from the front. But now we are seeing some kind of shift,” political analyst Rasheed Kidwai said. “The opposition is doing better than expected and it appears that Modi’s party is rattled. That’s the reason you see Modi ramping up anti-Muslim rhetoric to polarize voters.”
Kidwai said the opposition has challenged Modi by centering its campaign narrative on social justice and rising unemployment, making the contest closer than expected.
Modi ran his campaign like a presidential race, a referendum on his 10 years of rule. He claimed to help the poorest with charity, free health care, providing toilets in their homes, and helping women get free or cheap cooking gas cylinders.
But he changed tack after a poor turnout of voters in the first round of the election and began stirring Hindu nationalism by accusing the Congress party of pandering to minority Muslims for votes.
Hindus account for 80 percent, and Muslims nearly 14 percent, of India’s over 1.4 billion people.
Manish Bhatia, a New Delhi voter, said that “politics on the basis of caste and religion is dangerous for the country,” adding that voting should be based on how candidates perform.
Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — were eligible to elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years.
Voters’ relative apathy has surprised some political analysts. In the five rounds of polling the voter turnout ranged between 62.2 percent to 69.16 percent — averaging 65.9 percent. By comparison, India’s 2019 national election registered the highest-ever voter turnout — 67.11 percent. Modi’s BJP won 303 seats in parliament in 2019.
Modi’s inauguration of a massive Hindu temple for the most revered Lord Rama, his massive roadshows, and big public rallies raised the BJP’s hopes of a massive a surge of voters in its favor.
The current prim minister came to power in 2014, dislodging the Congress party that governed the country for nearly 55 years after India won independence from British colonialists in 1947.
Before the election, the opposition INDIA alliance was seen bickering, but it has since held together, particularly after two chief ministers of two opposition-controlled states were sent to jail on corruption charges. Both deny the accusations.
One of them — New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal — has since been released on bail and returned to the campaign trail.
In March, Gandhi completed a 6,713-kilometer (4,171-mile) walk across the country, starting in the violence-hit northeastern state of Manipur, to raise awareness on issues of poverty, unemployment, and democracy with voters.
“The walk helped Gandhi boost his image as a serious politician among the voters, and that is helping the opposition,” Kidwai, the political anaylast, said.