In recent weeks, numerous local solidarity groups have called for a retail boycott of some of the countries big supermarkets, in the hopes of pressuring them to cut business ties with Israeli companies. The campaign has however been met with a divided opinion from the community, with many concerned that the boycotts would have a detrimental effect on the community, by putting jobs at risk.
However, the coordinator of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign in South Africa, Muhammad Desai, felt the jobs argument was “a slap in the face” of the Israeli lobby, rather than the Palestinian solidarity movement. He noted that if those Israeli products were instead sourced locally, it would increase job creation and the country’s economy as a whole. BDS recently launched the campaign against Woolworths, which imports several of its products from Israeli settlements.
“The primary problem is a company like Woolworths having trade relations with Israel and not the boycott itself. The boycott is a response to the problem and the problem is the Israeli trade link,” he explained.
Eighty-three year old anti-apartheid veteran Laloo ‘Isu’ Chiba took a bold stand on Friday by picketing against the sale of Israeli products outside a Woolworths store at Trade Route Mall, Lenasia. The stalwart – who spent 18 years in prison on Robben Island and is now a trustee of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation – has urged shoppers to heed the call by the BDS campaign.
Chiba was clear that the decision by Woolworths to buy consumer goods from Israel is an endorsement of Israel’s unacceptable practices in Palestine. He said that it can be compared to purchasing South African products during the apartheid era.
“Economic sanctions and boycotts by ordinary people around the globe was an important part of putting an end to apartheid in South Africa. Woolworths stocks Israeli produce, and I understand that virtually all Israeli agricultural companies have illegal operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We cannot be apolitical – we have to take a moral stance. It is for these reasons that I call on all residents of this area, and South Africans in general, to boycotts Woolworths,” Chiba said.
With the BDS boycott specifically targeting the Woolworths brand, Desai called on those employed by the company, specifically those within the Muslim community, to join in on the campaign.
“The campaign is not against you. We are asking you to use your position of influence and power, to raise this issue within board meetings, management meetings, shop steward meetings, and to make this an internal problem whilst we create an external pressure,” he urged.
He hoped such a collective effort from Woolworths employees, the general community, and a number of suppliers sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, would bring about a change in the companies stance.
“Let us apply that pressure against Woolworths and get them to end their relations with Israel, and let us move from victory to victory on this campaign, which if anything will create more jobs rather than lose jobs,” he said.
According to Desai, Woolworths had refused to divulge information about who the Israeli suppliers of their fresh produce were. This raised questions about whether those suppliers were companies with a footprint in the occupied territories of Palestine. They had also refused to withdraw the products in question from their stores.
He urged the community that beyond boycotting the company, to write letters to the management of Woolworths, raise awareness towards their refusal to cut ties with Israeli suppliers, and conduct pickets and protests outside the various stores. On Thursday, Capetonian activists cut up their Woolworths cards at the St Georges Mall branch.
The intense bombardment by the Israeli Defence Force on the people of Gaza resumed on Friday after a three day truce. The conflict has resulted in the death of over 800 people, of whom over 400 were children and over 200 were women. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)