When Russia invaded Ukraine in full force last year, the reaction from the business sector was both immediate and vocal. Corporate powerhouses ranging from Adidas and Disney to Bank of America and Toyota openly supported Ukraine, both financially and morally. High-profile CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and Citi Group’s Jane Fraser wore Ukrainian flag lapel pins in a show of unity. Companies like ExxonMobil and Unilever didn’t mince words in their condemnation of Russia. In the end, over 1,000 businesses committed to reducing or completely halting operations in Russia.
Contrast this with the more subdued corporate response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Many of the companies that spoke out on Ukraine have remained silent on the Middle East issue. Those that have commented, such as Microsoft, Google, and Goldman Sachs, have generally supported Israel and condemned Hamas, especially after an attack that resulted in significant casualties. However, these companies have been largely quiet about Israel’s counterattacks in Gaza, despite substantial loss of life.
The Israel-Palestine issue is a thorny one for companies that pride themselves on their social justice initiatives, according to industry experts. Rahat Kapur, editor of Campaign Asia, notes that the conflict’s intricate historical context and sensitive nature make it a difficult issue for companies to navigate. Firms often face backlash for taking simplified stances that resonate poorly with discerning consumers.
In Western countries, where Hamas is commonly labeled as a “terrorist” organization, openly supporting Palestine is fraught with risks. Most expressions of solidarity have been limited to small organizations rather than large corporations.
There’s also been a lack of corporate condemnation of the most deadly attack within Israel since its founding. Public sentiment is mixed when it comes to the role businesses should play in socio-political issues. While a majority of American consumers think companies should take public stances, many would also boycott brands that don’t align with their views.
Felipe Thomaz, an associate professor at Oxford’s Said Business School, believes that the stakes are particularly high during times of war. Brands taking positions that go against the majority of their customer base risk alienating them, making it a risky endeavor.
In summary, corporations seem to tread more cautiously on the Israel-Hamas conflict than they