Has Amazon-UK gone BDS?


London’s retail giant repeatedly refused my DVD order, citing vague “delivery restrictions.” A service blunder, or a secret boycott? After 10 days, Customer Service reps are still dodging the question.

It started innocently: A simple online order during the annual “Black Friday” sales. On Nov. 17 after Shabbat ended, I saw a DVD movie I wanted at Amazon-UK and I opened an account. Everything ran smoothly as the system accepted my credit card, my address and my other profile details.

Until I tried to order the DVD.

I was stopped by a red-lettered advisory: “Sorry, this item can’t be sent to your selected address. Learn more [link to a Help page]. You may either change the delivery address or delete the item from your order.

(credit: Hannah Weiss, screenshot)
(credit: Hannah Weiss, screenshot)

Change my delivery address? Aha, I thought. I live in Ariel… an Israeli city built on empty land duly purchased from its owners, but denigrated by some as an “illegal settlement” simply because it’s on the ‘wrong’ side of a political argument. Yet the Amazon-UK site contained no declaration against Israeli settlements, or any other political statement. I checked social media. It was sprinkled with Israeli comments comparing UK shipping charges with Amazon Global; no report of delivery trouble for any particular Israeli location.

Opening Amazon-UK’s linked Help page only deepened my perplexity. There I encountered a list of more links, leading to more lists. The possible barriers included official sanctions (North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria) or problematic items (hazardous materials, overweight objects, medicines, light bulbs to Ireland, etc.). DVDs were fine for “most countries,” so I moved on.

I found Israel included in “Restricted Locations,” but this list turned out to be countries that place their own restrictions on “certain items due to their content.” I was positive that my DVD choice (a BBC drama) would not trigger Israeli security or crime alarms.

A faint possibility of “location” problems lurked in the “Marketplace Restrictions,” where a disclaimer appears: “Amazon.co.uk Marketplace Sellers can select which countries they want to deliver to.” Perhaps the Seller supports BDS – Boycott-Divest-Sanction, the movement that specializes in bashing Israel – and is boycotting Israel.

Nope, nix that idea. The disclaimer continues: “If product detail page messaging advises that the Seller doesn’t dispatch to your address, or if you see a similar message during checkout, it’s likely your Seller has specified UK delivery only.” No notice had appeared about the Seller (located in Scotland) being limited to UK delivery. Nor has the Customer Service arm of Amazon-UK claimed at any time that this Seller refuses to ship outside the UK, or to Israel in particular.

Thus, the mystery remained: Why does a legally registered address in Ariel, a city where Amazon deliveries arrive daily via Israel’s Postal Service, present such an obstacle for Amazon-UK?

And that mystery grew as the Customer Service arm grew… to an absurd length.

Over the first three days, I was passed from Gowtham to Yogesh to Harika to Sujith to Giri – each of them in turn expressing concern for me as a valued customer, confessing themselves unable to resolve my issue, and imploring me stand by for a solution that would materialize within hours. The prompt answers via chat and email were personable and optimistic. But in the only part that mattered, they were clones… directing me to the same unhelpful Help page I had already seen.

I had meanwhile ordered my DVD from the US-based Amazon Global site, with no red-letter advisories, receiving a delivery confirmation after 24 hours. I informed Sujith (UK Rep Number 4) of this development, and I modified my Service request: “Please advise me how to relate to Amazon-UK for the future, since I cannot change my default delivery address — this is where I live, and the Israeli Postal Service has no other address for me.”

That short query about a long-term relationship catapulted my need for Customer Care to a new level, paved with more elegant but still tight-lipped evasions.

Giri (No. 5) answered in place of Sujith, informing me that an unnamed Number 6 had joined the expedition. At Giri’s request, this individual (reverently referred to three times as “my colleague”) was diligently looking into, and striving to resolve, the “operational or regulatory reasons” that made it so difficult to guarantee future deliveries. “As it is not yet possible to provide you with a resolution, we continue to work hard to provide an update and we still expect to be in contact with you on the date provided by my colleague.”

Seeking to render his fair share of service, Giri also referred me to… you guessed it… the Help page on Delivery Restrictions. He knew that I had already seen it six times and considered it a dead-end. Giri nevertheless assured me, “We want to be sure to address this matter as thoroughly as possible.”

At least it wasn’t a technical glitch. On the contrary, it seemed I had burdened the London-based Amazon office with a “matter” needing to be so “thoroughly” examined that the turnaround promise was stretched from a few hours to two days.

I pondered. Blunder? Or boycott? Perhaps it’s against British business culture to forthrightly acknowledge a royal screw-up in serving a customer. Perhaps it’s fear of British public opinion, which has rightly [1] begun equating BDS with antisemitism. To clarify which way the wind blows in London, I started testing for the presence of an invisible BDS Elephant in the Room. Not with head-on confrontation, but with well-mannered European sensitivity.

On Nov. 20 (Day 4), I wrote back to Giri, saying that I might have found a solution. I suggested delivering my orders elsewhere in Israel: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or some other Israeli address. Since the site lists “Palestinian Territories,” I even suggested PA-ruled Salfit (population 8000, visible over the hill from Ariel), just to see if they would negotiate.

Amazon-UK’s response to all these options: Silence.

Nov. 22, Day 6: I wrote again to Giri and My-Colleague, reminding them of their two-day deadline. No reply from the duo, but on Day 7 I heard from Praveen. With the history of my complaint visible below his reply, he dutifully informed me of “delivery restrictions” (missing my requests for more specific information). He gave me the same link that I had seen ad-nauseum (missing my repeated lament that those pages revealed nothing). He again pledged Amazon-UK’s devotion to my satisfaction as their valued customer.

I had closed my note to Giri et al. with a piteous appeal to Amazon’s self-interest: “I can’t help believing that you don’t really want my business. It seems you are waiting for me to just give up and go away. Please tell me what’s going on. I deserve that much before I close this useless account.” Praveen assured me that this “suggestion” would be “passed along to the appropriate department.”

So much for well-mannered sensitivity. Time for assertiveness.

Day 7, noon: After making it clear that I didn’t hold the Amazon worker-ants personally responsible for the stonewalling, I asked Praveen to deliver an ultimatum to his employer:

My patience is gone. So… here’s the deal:  

You (or your supervisor if necessary) need to give me the PRECISE restriction that is keeping me from ordering anything from Amazon UK. I’m not even asking for a solution anymore — I just want to know EXACTLY what the delivery blockage consists of in my case.

Either your company will supply this simple bit of information to me, or they will supply it to the British news outlets. UK Journalists are always interested in unsolved mysteries and peculiar incidents that carry implications of unfair treatment. I will make sure they hear of this one.

Day 7, evening: I received a courteous reply from Victoria, “part of the Management team.” She was the first Service Rep to not include my most recent email in the correspondence – perhaps a polite hint that Amazon-UK considered my ultimatum to be in such bad taste it was best not to reproduce or quote it. But it did cause them to blink once. She was the first to try to pinpoint that elusive “delivery restriction.”

Having checked my order and finding no reason to blame the Seller, or any other player in the supply chain, Victoria offered what she considered the only plausible explanation:

“I looked into this for you and Israel is on the Sanctioned or Sensitive Countries list, where the country has restricted certain items due to their content. As it is not clear as to what the DVD contains that could be restricted, I’ll personally look into this with our buying team.”

Blaming the state of Israel for having “restricted” the DVD at the point of sale was resourceful. Only she forgot that Amazon Global had encountered no Israeli restriction. And in being “not clear as to what the DVD contains that could be restricted” by Israel, the lady betrayed her own perplexity – and vindicated my repeated complaint over the previous week.

That being said, she has yet to realize that the excuse she offered was doomed from the start!

The Israeli authorities would not object to my chosen DVD any more than they would object to the writings of Theodore Herzl. It’s the BBC-TV series Daniel Deronda, based on George Eliot’s 19th-century novel exposing anti-Jewish prejudice in the respectable British society of her day.

What’s more, Eliot’s portrayal of European Jews struggling to keep their identity qualifies as one of the earliest expressions of Christian Zionism. The main hero in her tale adopts the outrageous idea that if the Jews are to survive, they must return to their ancient homeland. Written in 1876, some 40 years before the Balfour Declaration, Eliot’s novel triggered significant public controversy and antipathy (which failed to move her).

Although proving remarkably prophetic, in today’s Britain George Eliot’s views are still called “controversial. But that’s Britain. This is Israel, the last country in the world that would ban such a film.

Amazon-UK’s management, apparently unaware of the content and only seeing the BBC label, has started from a shaky assumption that the Zionists are repressive enough to censor a British literary production. Or… maybe it’s just a sophisticated stalling strategy. As Victoria explained in her email, uncovering the obscure reason for Israel’s peculiar decision about this DVD will require an entire “buying team” and could take as long as another week.

Non-answer Number 8, duly noted and admired. While giving the impression of high-end Customer Care, it buys them time to shrink the Elephant before local media comes calling. Sure enough, three more days of silence have passed since Victoria’s “warmest regards” and ridiculous explanation.

Meanwhile, Service Rep No. 8 and Team clearly forgot that I have already ordered the DVD they are so hotly pursuing on my behalf. Or did they forget? That focus completely displaced my updated question regarding Amazon-UK “delivery restrictions” on any future orders to Ariel. If I should remind them of this oversight, Victoria will probably apologize profusely… and announce a third week of team research.

What’s really going on? The only theory that makes sense is one I can’t verify conclusively. My experience thus far reveals a case of “they who know don’t talk, and they who talk don’t know.” Was Victoria linking “Israel” with “Sanctioned and Sensitive” as a subconscious slip? Israel is not on the UK’s “Sanctioned Countries” list. But BDS longs to see Israel’s name there. Trade with Israel is already quite a “sensitive” matter for UK’s Labour leader, who has endorsed BDS to some audiences and denied it to others.

Amazon’s UK branch definitely offers deliveries to Israel. Therefore, restrictions on certain Israeli addresses would indicate a back-door BDS influence. But my case presents even darker possibilities.

The lack of response to my suggestion of an “alternate” (read: politically correct) Israeli address felt unavoidably personal. The message I got: Amazon-UK will not serve an Israeli “settler,” under any circumstances. But under no circumstances will they admit that this is the real “delivery restriction.”

While some would call my theory paranoid, it’s actually realistic. The BDS movement has become increasingly ambitious since its 2005 debut. Their recent success with Airbnb suggests that other global commerce may be under similar pressures. But few companies will want to deal with the fallout Airbnb is facing since publishing its support of BDS. Enacting a quiet boycott policy to avoid constant threats of inclusion on a semi-secretive and unregulated UN-sponsored “blacklist,” while delaying disclosure of that policy to avoid public indignation and counter-boycotts, is a have-cake-eat-cake strategy that would appeal to an international retailer with a lot to lose from negative publicity. Especially right before the 2018 Christmas buying frenzy.

For their part, BDS activists think nothing of violating the movement’s declared ethics. The stated strategy is to refuse to buy from any Israeli business [2] (although even the movement’s founder shamelessly cheats when it suits him). The more zealous will also refuse to buy from non-Israeli companies that do business in Israel. But official BDS statements emphasize boycotting institutions; not individual Israelis, which they acknowledge as antisemitic targeting. Yet this red line is routinely crossed when BDS activists boycott individual academics, artists, and children, or threaten college students, simply because they are from Israel. Even individual Israeli Arabs are boycotted for choosing to identify as Israeli.[3] BDS should be parsed as “Bullying Double Standard.”

Bullying companies into refusing to sell their product in selected Israeli areas is rarely successful, given the pragmatism of global trade, and the near-impossibility of separating Judea-Samaria-Golan deliveries from the rest of Israel. Even with Airbnb it took two years of bad press, along with threats from both the UN blacklist and Human Rights Watch. Partial boycotts, however, are only temporary milestones; the ultimate BDS goal is a total boycott of Israel on every level, including dialog.[4]

Still more inhumane and unethical is the BDS pressure on Israeli companies to stop supplying individual Israelis with basic services, like water (Mekorot), heating fuel (Amisragas), medicines (Teva) and internet broadband (Bezeq). In short, the unprovoked attacks that BDS launches against individual Israelis abroad are seeking to also invade the privacy of Israeli homes. Hatred doesn’t get more personal than that.

There’s another reason why BDS must leverage harassment rather than conscience to gain followers. It’s an open secret that true Palestinian human-rights activists, like Bassem Eid for example, despise BDS as a hypocritical group using the Palestinian cause to promote themselves. Eid says he speaks for many Palestinians whose interests are damaged by BDS, but whose voices are ignored nearly everywhere except in Israel. Companies that resist BDS are able to empower Palestinians to pursue their interests. Companies that surrender only empower the BDS leaders, who willingly sacrifice Palestinians in order to hurt Israel, and who want to force a political solution that Palestinians reject.

Is Amazon-UK a surrendering company? Those who know aren’t talking.

Victoria named a deadline for getting back to me: Nov. 30. The fact that it will take two full weeks just to identify the problem leaves me with only one conclusion: Amazon-UK is being forced to acknowledge a problem that shouldn’t be there, that they don’t want to admit is there with nowhere to pass the buck. If the circumstances weren’t unsavory, they would have announced both problem and solution on Day 1 or 2.

Time to man up, Amazon. If the UK branch has secretly joined the back row of the BDS lynching mob, while trying to keep it from the public, then they are shirking the moral obligation to choose a side and take the consequences.

The Amazon-UK slogan at the bottom of every email tells me: “Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” So, while we’re waiting for their next installment of warmest regards, I invite readers to offer feedback. Help them name and own their problem. Or if you’re inclined to defend them, please suggest something more believable than Israeli censorship of a Zionist classic!


[1] Despite BDS denunciation of antisemitism, the movement targets the Jewish state for unique condemnation and collective punishment, while ignoring other democratic countries practicing the same behaviors against Palestinians that are attributed to Israel (including Lebanon, Kuwait, Tunisia, Iraq, and the PA itself). This double standard fits the International Working Definition of Antisemitism – a document fully adopted by the British, Scottish and Welsh governments.

[2] Contrary to popular impression, the BDS movement targets ALL Israeli businesses and institutions, not just those based in the disputed areas (aka West Bank) or serving Jewish settlements. The official BDS site explicitly advocates a full boycott of Israel as an illegitimate entity, and its leaders hope for Israel to disappear entirely. The official site clarifies that the corporations on the UNHRC blacklist likewise “are not only those based or operating inside Israeli settlements, but basically all companies doing business with the state of Israel.”

[3] Ironically, BDS falsely accuses Israel of apartheid (denying equal rights to its Arab citizens and isolating them from Jews), and then supports apartheid by branding Arab citizens who are fully integrated in Israeli society as “traitors” for not isolating themselves.

[4] The movement condemns any Palestinian-Israeli cooperation as immoral, and seeks to eliminate even talking to Israelis.