The app appears to work very simply: users can scan the barcode of a product or enter its name, and within seconds they are told to what extent the manufacturer "supports Israel." Then "No Thanks" is displayed — an appeal not to buy certain products. Videos on TikTok and X show that companies such as Coca-Cola and Nescafé are among those listed.
The app was launched on November 13, and has been downloaded over 100,000 times so far, and social media comments suggest people around the world from India to Belgium are interested in the app.
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated drastically since the militant Islamist group Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the USA, Germany and other countries, attacked Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages.
According to the Hamas-led Health Ministry, almost 15,000 people have been killed on the Palestinian side since October 7 as a result of the Israeli bombardment of targets in the Gaza Strip. Since then, many people around the world have positioned themselves as either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian or even pro-Hamas. According to social media comments, the "No Thanks" boycott app was mainly downloaded by pro-Palestinian supporters.
The app can no longer be downloaded from the Google Play Store for Android apps and, as of December 1, there is no version for iOS, i.e. Apple devices. However, the app can still be downloaded in indirect ways.
But who is behind "No Thanks" and what exactly is the aim? And why is the app no longer available in from Google Play?
'I have lost my brother'
According to the app itself, "No Thanks" was developed by Ahmed Bashbash, currently living in Hungary. Contacted by DW, he said he was a Palestinian from Gaza. Bashbash said he lost his brother "in this massacre" and that his sister died in 2020 because she did not receive medical support from Israel in time. "I made it in behalf of my brother and my sister who I lost because of this brutal occupation, and my goal is to try to prevent what happened to me to happen to another Palestinian," Bashbash told DW by email.
He compiled the list of companies that allegedly support Israel with the help of the websites "Boycotzionism" and "Ulastempat." The Boycotzionism website advertises with the slogan "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," which is sometimes interpreted as antisemitic. Some see the phrase as a slogan that denies Israel's right to exist.
The lists of brands that should be boycotted, according to the website operators, include world-famous companies such as Adidas, McDonald's, Chanel, Netflix and Apple, and also represent all kinds of industries, from food to cosmetics to streaming providers. Some companies are on the list because they jointly launched a campaign after October 7 in which they condemned Hamas' terrorist attack on Israel. According to the websites, other companies invest in Israeli start-ups, for example, or finance "the theft of Palestinian territory."
Criticism of Israel's policies or antisemitism?
Bashbash said that he was told the app was banned by Google for including the sentence:
"You can see if the product in your hand supports killing children in Palestine," which was displayed on the home screen of the app.
Experts say this sentence can be interpreted as either critical of Israel or antisemitic. Meron Mendel, director of the Anne Frank Educational Center, told DW that the phrase recalled an antisemitic belief in the Middle Ages that Jews murdered children in order to produce Passover bread from their blood.
Uffa Jensen, deputy director of the Center for Research on Antisemitism, also says that this expression could come close to being accused of antisemitism because it uses the image of Israel as a child murderer.
The other interpretation of the sentence is the fact that children are indeed being killed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza during the current war, said Mendel. Since they are not being murdered intentionally, but are dying in the course of the war, the sentence about a product supporting the killing of children in Palestine can also be seen as a polemical exaggeration — "as a means of emotionalizing," as Mendel put it.
Jensen adds that Hamas also killed Israeli children on October 7. "A sentence like that escapes this context and is then highly polemical," he continues.
What is the aim of the boycott?
According to Mendel, the important question is what the exact aim of the boycott is. Since October 7, it has been clear that not everyone is pursuing the same goals: "There are those who want a Palestinian state alongside the Israeli state, and there are those who want the destruction of the state of Israel. The point here is to distinguish between these two groups."
"The means of economic boycott, the individual decision not to buy products, is initially legitimate," Mendel continues. Moreover, the Arab boycott against Israel is not new; it began in the early 1970s. According to Jensen, there is also a minority of left-wing Jews who are critical of Israel and support such campaigns. The boycott is also propaganda against Israel. Overall, it is therefore necessary to differentiate whether it is a call critical of Israel or whether it is antisemitism, says Mendel.
But quite a few social media users in Germany think of the National Socialist call of 1933 "Don't buy from Jews" when they hear such calls for a boycott. But such a comparison could also be seen as historically inaccurate and problematic in itself, as it runs the risk of trivializing National Socialism. "This implies that there was a specific cause for the Nazi boycott of Jews and that non-Jewish Germans and Jewish Germans were two conflicting parties before 1933. That is, of course, historically completely wrong," explains Mendel.
Jensen also finds the connection to National Socialism difficult: "Internationally, there are dozens of other examples of boycott measures." He mentions, for example, the decades-long boycott of South Africa up until the 1990s because of the racial segregation at the time. On the one hand, these calls can be compared, but on the other, sometimes antisemitic ideas are also mixed into calls for a boycott of Israel.
Economic damage unlikely
Furthermore, the problem that would arise for Israel as a result of such a boycott would not be economic damage. It is the cultural and scientific boycott that goes hand in hand with it, explains Mendel. "Progressive forces in Israel, in science, in art, in the peace movement, also in Europe and North America, are being marginalized and excluded," he said.
This escalation has also been achieved in part through such measures. On the contrary, the overall aim should be to support peaceful progressive forces on both sides.
In the meantime, Ahmed Bashbash's first goal is to make the app available again in the popular app stores. The app is free and all the profits he makes with it are sent to Palestinian organizations that help the people in Gaza, Bashbash said in his app.
This article was originally written in German.