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#BoycottWoolworths – Why the campaign failed

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After two years, organizes of #BoycottWoolworths this week announced the end of the crippled campaign. The campaign began in response to the 2014 Operation Protection Edge in which more than 2100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed at the hands of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. The brutality of the attacks attracted large amounts of international criticism, awakening a European call against the occupation of Palestinian lands and subsequently revived Palestinian solidarity within South Africa.

Following Woolworths reluctance to end its trade relations with Israel, early in August 2014 a call was made for the complete boycott of the South African retailer until it ended its Israeli trade links.

The #BoycottWoolworths call was made by the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P), the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) South Africa, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the ANC Youth League, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), the Action Forum for Palestine (AFP) and various others.

While many supported the campaign, Woolworths stores soon after the call for the boycott was made, appeared to have remained unscathed by criticism of its policy to continue relations with its Israeli counter parts.

VOC spoke to Palestinian solidarity organizations to understand why the campaign failed and what the plan for the future of the mass movement includes.

Chairperson of the PSC, Martin Jansen, explains that while the PSC initially supported the boycott, the #BoycottWoolworths campaign had in the months following Israel’s Operation Protective Edge proven to be ineffective.

In light of criticism against the campaign, Jansen says that the campaign was in fact a correct decision, since it came at a pivotal period where the situation in Gaza Strip was internationally thrown into the spotlight.

“I think it is the correct decision, but I think that we must also know what the history of the campaign was,” he said.

He says that following one of the biggest marches to have taken place on the shores of Cape Town, which attracted approximately 200 000 pro-Palestine supporters, the boycott campaign was scheduled to be officially launched at the launch, but was not.

“It was the perfect opportunity and platform. But it was not mentioned at the march and people were not rallied to support it. So, that for me was a missed opportunity.”

He asserts that the crippled campaign is linked to the lack of assertive action of organizations belonging to the NC4P, who he describes as having “floundered.”

“What was clear, was that the only Cape Town organizations that were really active from the beginning until the following year was the PSC, the AFP, and to some extent Runners for Palestine. All the other organizations in the coalition, like COSATU and the MJC, were hardly active,” Jansen stated.

While the campaign had promising results in the initial phase of the boycott, Jansen says that the campaign did not achieve what the organizers sought out to do, which was to financially impact the company.

Moving forward, Jansen notes that the main campaign includes the broad based boycott of all Israeli institutions, “politically and otherwise”, in an attempt to isolate Israel in the same manner that Apartheid South Africa was sanctioned.

“There are Israeli [soccer] teams that are based in settlement areas, which go against FIFA rules, but yet Israeli teams are allowed to compete in UEFA club competitions,” Jansen added.

He says that given the geographical location of South Africa, the most effective role that South Africa can play within the liberation struggle of Palestine is through government intervention and policy review.

Jansen says that both the government’s reluctance and through what he describes as having collaborated with Israeli authorities have not worked to facilitate the road to freedom of the Palestinian peoples.

“We need to look at how we can pressurize our government to act more decisively internationally, in the same way that governments in north Americana and elsewhere have been forced to act against [Apartheid] South Africa.”

Jansen notes that this form of mass mobilization is only achievable through correct organizational planning; the development of a constitution and branches, which he says the PSC is in the process of establishing.

He further urges community members to continue unabated their solidarity with the Palestinian people, and to not quiet down with every seize fire.

“We must not be discouraged, we did not entirely succeed with Woolworths, but this is the nature of struggle. Many people thought that Apartheid would last forever and did not dream that by 1990 we would see the beginning of liberation in South Africa. The same applies to Palestine – but it will only happen if we remain committed,” Jansen continued.

Treasurer of the AFP, Ansar Salie, explains that the organization, which was an idea that materialized in 2014, was born out of a few people brain storming at picket lines about ways to conscientise residents on the issue of Palestine.

The organization, which today’s stands at 40 individuals, subsequently joined the NC4P, but according Salie the union did not provide the AFP with viable growth.

“The organization was never recognized and all activities that the AFP formed part of were always blanketed by the bigger organization.  If people out there did not know about us we would never grow,” Salie stated.

He says that while the AFP was not granted the recognition for its role in the pro-Palestine movement, the organization led the pickets outside Woolworths stores, which many Cape Town residents became familiar with.

As a result of continued pickets, four AFP members were arrested outside the Woolworths store in Cavendish, Cape Town, later becoming known as the ‘Cavendish Four’.

“The bigger organizations that were not on the picket line, did not necessarily know the challenges that we faced there,” Salie said.

He further states that the campaigns unsuccessful fate was directly linked to the lack of creating awareness on the part of campaigners, which he says the AFP has been actively doing within communities.

Drawing on the notion of awareness, Salie says that a large factor that acted against the campaign is the fact that the Palestine issue is considered by many to be a religious issue, with many individuals disillusioned by the fact that Palestinians include people of the Christian and Jewish faith.

As part of the general boycott campaign, Jansen encourages community members to continue boycotting Woolworths, since the company continues to “collude” with Israel.

“Although the focus is no longer on Woolworths, it does not give people carte blanche to go back to Woolworths. We need people to shop with a conscience. So although the campaign has been broadened, it still includes Woolworths.”

Echoing Jansen’s sentiment, Salie asserts that a sports boycott of Israel will further highlight the issue within western countries that may otherwise enjoy good relations with Israeli authorities.

He says that moving forward, the AFP will begin initiatives directed toward educating school goers, as well as church groups on the issue of Palestine.

Consumers are encouraged to download ‘Buycott’, which is free phone application, with which consumers can scan a product’s barcode. The application will subsequently indicate the manufacturer of the product.

Contact AFP on 0718742977 or email

To locate the PCS, email


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