South African boycott against Israeli goods intensifies
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
A national lobby group calling on South African retailers to stop selling Israeli goods met President Jacob Zuma this week to gain political weight for their campaign.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement already has support from other politicians such as higher education minister Blade Nzimande.
BDS has zoomed its campaign on retailer Woolworths, calling on consumers not to shop at its stores. Veteran anti-apartheid activist Ronnie Kasrils has already shown support, appearing in photographs posted on social media, holding a placard promoting the campaign.
BDS said it was targeting Woolworths because it sells good imported from Israel while it “claims to be an ethical company with responsible principles”.
“Those principles should be extended to Palestinian human rights. We want Woolworths to end its trade links with Israel. We hope to focus on other companies that have links with Israeli suppliers,” it said.
The global BDS campaign has called on consumers to refrain from supporting Israeli businesses or those that support Israel, following recent deaths of hundreds of civilians Gaza.
The local campaign has also targeted Pick n Pay, Dischem and various food and beverage brands.
A Woolworths spokesperson said they were aware of the boycott. The spokesperson said “less than 0.1% of our food is sourced from Israel”.
“We know the current conflict in the Middle East has affected many of our customers and our employees. We have heard many views expressed via our social media channels, emails and phone calls,” it said.
“We respect our customers’ right to make individual purchasing choices, which is why we clearly label every product’s country of origin and fully comply with government guidelines on product from Israel.”
Woolworths said it was unable to comment on the boycott’s impact on its revenue, as it would “release our full year trading results next week”.
BDS believes “foot traffic into Woolworths stores has decreased”. Social media websites show consumers bearing placards with the words #BoycottWoolworths.
Retailer Pick n Pay said it sold Israeli goods “mainly when South African products are out of season”.
It said in a statement that Israeli goods “represent a minuscule proportion, as do imports from other countries, for example Pakistan and Syria”.
“The vast majority of our customers understand that we play no part whatsoever in the tragic events in Gaza. Pick n Pay has always adopted a strictly non-political stance; the only exception being in South Africa, where for many years prior to 1994 our company made plain our opposition to apartheid.”
The South African Zionist Federation said this week “boycotts of Israeli goods in South Africa is a dead issue and one whose effectiveness and results are questionable at the very least”.
Its executive director Julie Berman said the BDS campaign “has little or no negative affect anywhere”.
“Quite the reverse as Israeli goods are enjoying a growing an increasing market everywhere, not for political or sympathy reasons, but because they are well made and provide value for money,” said Berman.
“South Africa we believe will show the same trend. We believe that BDS has overstepped the mark and people in general simply are not convinced by its patently exaggerated claims.”
Berman added: “Why should anybody wanting to help the Palestinian people boycott Israel instead of facilitating its efforts to bring normality to the situation and comfort to the people there?”
BDS this week meanwhile hosts Norwegian surgeon, Dr Mads Gilbert, on a nationwide speaking tour to reflect on his work in Gaza.
Gilbert will speak at a public event at the University of the Western Cape on Thursday at 10am.