Woolworths retailer takes court action against Palestine protesters

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

General retailer Woolworths has sought a court interdict against pro-Palestine protesters who vowed yesterday to continue action against it.

Woolworths confirmed via its press office yesterday that it has applied for an interdict because “business has a right to trade unhindered”. Its interdict application is set for hearing at the South Gauteng High Court on November 25.

Various groups have recently protested countrywide against Woolworths for selling Israeli goods. Protesters believe this is a sign the retailer supports Israel’s military action against Palestinians.

Woolworths said yesterday that it sold only “figs and pretzels from Israel”.

“We spent R14-billion on local food last year and we are being taken to task (for selling figs and pretzels),” it said.

Woolworths said it sought court action as the “safety of our employees and customers come first”.

Paula Disberry, group director for retail operations at Woolworths, said “unlawful protest actions inside our stores have had a profound effect on many of our employees and customers”.

In response, protest groups Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Against Israel in South Africa, and the National Coalition 4 Palestine said they would march on Woolworths this month.

The coalition’s Reverend Edwin Arrison said they would “mobilise for about 5,000 people” to march to the Woolworths head office in central Cape Town when the company holds its annual general meeting on November 26.

Weekend Argus obtained an internal e-mail from the coalition in which Arrison states they would intend to shame Woolworths by “reading out the names one by one… (of) the names of the children killed during the Gaza war”.

“Some comrades who have bought Woolworths shares as well as some other high-profile people selected by us will be entering the meeting while the rest of us will be outside,” said Arrison.

Woolworths previously threatened it would take court action against pro-Palestine protesters.

“Unfortunately their campaign has extended beyond raising awareness and includes actions such as intimidation of customers and employees, restricting access and preventing customers from shopping,” it said.

“Products have also been damaged. The recent statements to ramp up their protest action has given us no choice but to take legal steps.

“It is our responsibility to ensure that our customers and employees feel safe in our stores, free of disruption, abuse and intimidation.”

Protest groups in a statement yesterday said court action was a “sign of the desperation of Woolworths and the growing impact of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign”.

“Woolworths claims they are concerned about a drop in business for the upcoming festive season… We disagree that the only option that Woolworths has was to go to court. We view this legal bullying and intimidation by a retail giant such as Woolworths of an activist organisation as unnecessary,” it said.

“The boycott of Woolworths and the protest actions can easily come to an end if Woolworths were simply to terminate its relations with apartheid Israel.”

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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