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In Jordan, American companies see boycotts sparked by the U.S.'s support for Israel

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's look now at an international boycott of American brands sparked by the U.S. arming and funding of Israel. NPR's Jane Arraf reports on the boycott's effect in Jordan, where it is being widely observed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: It's not easy being McDonald's in this part of the Arab world.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Non-English language spoken).

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ARRAF: This is a drive-thru in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Normally, cars would be backed up. But this rainy evening, there's only one.

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ARRAF: American brands in the region have been hit since October by a boycott protesting U.S. weapons shipments to Israel during the war in Gaza. Among the countries where it's most closely observed is Jordan, where a majority of citizens are originally Palestinian.

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ARRAF: Although McDonald's is quintessentially American, franchises are locally owned. But after McDonald's Israel donated thousands of free meals to the Israeli military, that distinction didn't mean much. The boycott is affecting all the big U.S. brands, and it's affecting Jordanian businesses and prompting layoffs. You can see the power of the boycott in local supermarkets.

Normally, the shelves would be full of Coke and Pepsi...

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ARRAF: ...But if you really want those brands or other ones that are even seen to be American, you have to go to a separate cooler. They're still here, but there's a sign on the glass door saying, attention - this item is boycotted. The choice is yours.

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ARRAF: The increasingly popular Cola choice is a Jordanian competitor, Matrix, which says it has doubled its production since last October. On a recent evening in bustling downtown Amman, the Starbucks branch there was almost empty. Next door, a Jordanian coffee chain, Astrolabe, named after the ancient instrument used to steer by stars, was reaping the benefits. Asala Hashimiya from Amman was grabbing coffee with her sister.

ASALA HASHIMIYA: All people in Amman are not going for Starbucks.

ARRAF: So why Starbucks and why McDonald's? Her sister Sara said, because those companies support Israel. Starbucks has no branches in Israel. But if Jordanians are wondering whom to boycott, there are apps to help them. Zain Nidhal, sitting with her mother and a friend, shows us one called Bilzamish, which means unnecessary.

ZAIN NIDHAL: So you can put any brand or product name, and it will tell you why it's boycott - like, how does it support Israel.

ARRAF: The manager of this branch of the Astrolabe coffee chain Reem Ghaith, who's 24, says it's mostly young people adhering to the boycott.

REEM GHAITH: Because we watch a lot of things on social media - more than our parents or grandparents - and we already support the Palestinian case before even the 7 of October.

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ARRAF: Astrolabe now has seven branches in Amman and is expanding to other countries. Company founder, Muath al-Faouri, says business has increased between 30 and 40% since October.

MUATH AL-FAOURI: In Astrolabe, one of our visions is to sell our culture. That's why I'm so proud of when we opened our shop that they are serving the Arabic coffee - the Arabic Bedouin coffee.

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ARRAF: Ghaith, the store manager, says one thing they no longer serve is their American breakfast.

GHAITH: We used to call it an American-style breakfast because it has cold-cut meats and hash browns and omelet. So we canceled that word.

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ARRAF: Now, she says they just call it the Astro breakfast. She says she thinks the boycott will diminish over time but believes the damage done to the image of the U.S. in the region by the war in Gaza will be more permanent.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.
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