A Palestine organizer of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement called the sneaker an ‘unethical, insensitive and irresponsible’ show of support for Israeli apartheid.
AUSTIN, Texas — Under intense pressure from activists, a global manufacturer of athletic footwear and clothing has backed away from plans to honor Israel with a special sneaker.
On Monday, Reebok announced a blue and white sneaker with “Israel 68” emblazoned on the heel to mark the 68th anniversary of the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, an Israeli national holiday known as Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Independence Day.
“Moshe Sinai, the CEO of Reebok Israel, explained that these sneakers were to be a one time celebratory release as a collector’s item in Israel and the world,” The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday. (The article was later deleted from the news outlet’s website, but can still be found in Google’s web cache.)
Supporters of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement flooded social media with condemnations of the sneaker.
— BDS Movement (@BDSmovement) May 10, 2016
The BDS movement seeks to build economic pressure against Israel’s apartheid policies, and many activists began calling for a boycott of Reebok products.
— The Tunashamer (@squirrel_doom) May 9, 2016
Corporate officials quickly sought to repair the damage to the company’s image, backing away from plans to sell the shoe.
“A representative said Reebok does not allow its sportswear to be politicized and refrains from distributing shoes tied to national emblems or countries,” The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.
Reebok claimed “that a local designer had customized a personal layout using the company’s website, which allows users to make their own designs. The local designer then drafted a statement, along with ‘the model of the shoe’ and sent it to the local Reebok distributor” and it “should not be presented as a product by the company’s international brand.”
Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, a website focused on Palestinian liberation, suggested on Tuesday that Reebok recognized that the shoe would have sent “a clear message of contempt and disregard to Palestinians over Israel’s historic and ongoing ethnic cleansing, occupation and other violations of their rights.”
“Reebok would like to distance itself from the shoe … We do not support this initiative,” an official with the Massachusetts-based corporation told the Electronic Intifada by email.
Abdulrahman Abunahel, an organizer for Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) based in Gaza, said the sneaker had permanently damaged the brand’s reputation.
“Celebrating the destruction of Palestinian society and the uprooting of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people, as Reebok has done, must be among the most unethical, insensitive and irresponsible acts of complicity any corporation can do,” he told Abunimah.
While Israelis celebrate their “independence,” Palestinians will mark this year as the 68th anniversary of what they call the “Nakba,” an Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.” In 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes to make way for Israel’s settlement, and neither they nor their descendents are allowed to return.
“Reebok has offended Palestinians and particularly millions of Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias and later Israel during the 1948 Nakba and are still being denied by Israel’s apartheid their right to return home,” Abunahel said.