Wedged in a haphazard row of shops in Mumbai’s crowded Bhendi Bazar, a predominantly Muslim area, the tiny Shalimar Restaurant exhorts patrons to reject products made by PepsiCo Inc., Kraft Foods Group Inc. and Nestle SA to protest Israel’s military operation in Gaza.
A poster near the manager’s table lists six Western brands, including the Coca-Cola Co., as “Israeli” and says they won’t be served in a campaign adopted by about 800 Muslim businesses in the city. In India, where governments for decades after independence supported the Palestinian cause, opposition to Israel often involves criticism of the U.S. and European nations deemed to favor the Jewish state.
“This is our way of showing our anger against Israel,” said Omaer Shaikh, who runs Shalimar, as the alley starts to get busy in the evening hours with makeshift shopping stalls on bamboo stands and devout Muslims preparing to break their day-long Ramadan fast. “For us, Coke and Pepsi is human blood. They are financing the war against Palestine.”
The protest comes amid efforts by the country’s newly elected Hindu-nationalist government to forge closer ties with Israel, a development that has angered the nation’s Muslims, who form about 13 percent of the population. Prime Minister Narendra Modi thwarted attempts this week by some lawmakers to condemn Israel over the fighting that has killed almost 700 people, most of them Palestinian civilians.
“These are expressions of frustration by some Muslims who feel more insecure after Modi became the prime minister,” said Satish Misra, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. “The Palestinian cause is a vehicle for their feelings.”
PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Mondelez and Kraft Foods are all based in the U.S., and Nestle’s headquarters is in Vevey, Switzerland.
“Given the local nature of the Coca-Cola business, we believe these type of actions primarily hurt the local economy, local businesses and local citizens,” said Kamlesh Kumar Sharma, an India spokesman for Coca-Cola, said in an e-mail.
A spokesman for Mondelez International Inc., the snack food maker that split off from Kraft Foods in 2012, did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment. Spokesmen for the Indian units of PepsiCo and Nestle, didn’t immediately reply to a e-mails seeking comment.
Israel sent troops into Gaza last week after multiple air raids failed to stop a barrage of rockets fired by Hamas militants at all its major cities and Palestinian militants infiltrated from the Hamas-controlled territory by underground tunnels and by sea.
Efforts to broker a truce have failed after Hamas said it won’t back down without pledges the Israeli and Egyptian blockades of Gaza will be ended. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
About 700 Palestinians have died during the Israeli operations, three fourths of them civilians, according to preliminary United Nations estimates, including about 150 children. Some 32 Israelis and one foreigner have died.
Thousands rallied against the Israeli military action in London over the past weekend, while some protesters clashed with the police in Paris, the Guardian reported on July 21.
After a pro-Arab tilt in its foreign policy since independence in 1947, partly because of its Muslim population, India has grown closer to Israel in the past two decades, a sore point for the minority community.
“We are trying our best to do what we can and have appealed to all to support this cause,” Shaikh said. “Not everything is in our hands.”
Not all the restaurants in Mumbai are boycotting the Western brands. “We definitely condemn the killing of innocent people in Gaza,” said Arvind Shetty, president of the Mumbai-based Indian Hotels and Restaurants Association. “But we don’t go into religious affairs.”
Israel has been the second-biggest supplier of weapons to India after Russia over the last decade, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It delivered equipment valued at $1.7 billion to the world’s biggest democracy in the period, the data show.
India and Israel have also held meetings on how to tackle terrorism and agreed to enhance cooperation in defeating threats. In 2012 the wife of an Israeli diplomat was injured when a magnetic device attached to her car exploded in a terror attack in New Delhi.
Rejecting calls by some lawmakers on July 21 for a resolution condemning Israel, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told the lower house of parliament that the nation must instead support a ceasefire between the two groups.
While the opposition’s demand for a resolution is “part of domestic Indian politics,” the government’s rejection “reflects the larger Indian position,” said Uday Bhaskar, chairman of the New Delhi-based Middle East Institute.
India was among countries that backed a UN Human Rights Council resolution introduced by Pakistan yesterday for a probe into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza, the Press Trust of India reported.
The Muslim-owned eateries are offering lemonade, mocktails and other local favorites instead, said Javed Kotwala, who runs the Persia Darbar. After India opened up its economy, they have more brands of consumer goods to boycott than about a decade ago, he said.
“The last time we did this protest was when the U.S. invaded Iraq,” Kotwala said. “It was harder then. Now there are more options.”