Why #BoycottWoolworths? Answers to frequently asked questions

Is Woolworths really the ethical company it claims to be? Hundreds of thousands of South Africans don’t think so. I sent Woolworths two requests to kindly remove my name from their e-mail distribution list. So far this has not yet happened and I have received only an undertaking that a consultant will call me. I no longer buy there.

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Why boycott Woolworths over other retailers?

A call for the complete boycott of Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by BDS South Africa and the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P) in August 2014. Similar to the 1980s anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement selects campaigns after careful analysis and strategic considerations. Several retailers in South Africa have some sort of trade relationship with Israel. We can try to boycott all of them but this is a daunting task that has a slim chance of having a concrete impact. Thus we focus our campaigns and move from one target to another as we reach our goals. Selecting Woolworths, for example, does not mean that other South African supermarkets do not stock Israeli products.

Part of the reason for campaigning and calling on Woolworths to end their Israeli trade relations is because Woolworths tries to sell itself as an “ethical company”. Surely the ethics that Woolworths claims to support include not trading with companies of a country like Israel that routinely abuses human rights? We are calling on Woolworths to respect the Palestinian boycott of Israel, take the lead and end its trade relations with Israel and set an example for other South African retailers.

South Africa’s Woolworths is being called-on to take the lead in ethical retail business, to respond to the call from its consumers, to be on the right side of history, to respect the international boycott of Israel and end its over 12 million rand worth of trade with Israel.

What is Woolworths’ relationship with Israel?

Woolworths sources products and produce from Israeli companies in violation of the international BDS consumer boycott. Amongst other items, Woolworths imports Pretzels, Couscous, Matzos, Coriander, Figs, Litchis, Plums and Mangoes from Israel. According to the human rights organization, Who Profits, almost all of Israel’s agricultural companies have illegal operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

What has Woolworths response been to the boycott:

To date Woolworths has refused to make available the Israeli suppliers that it sources its products from. Sadly, Woolworths has also refused to meet with BDS South Africa and organizers of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. However, sources from within Woolworths have indicated that the company is feeling the impact of the campaign both at a public relation level and on a financial level.

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Is it a blanket boycott of Woolworths or just Israeli products they sell?

The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott. The issue is not with the Israeli tomato or avocado in a Woolworths store – it is with Woolworths as a company having a trade relationship with Israel.

Is the boycott of Woolworths Food Stores or all its stores including clothes?

The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott of all Woolworths stores and products.

Does the boycott just involve refraining from purchasing at Woolworths?

No, it involves actively writing to the store, organizing pickets, protests and taking other actions.

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How does Woolworths respond?

Woolworths is maintaining its trade with Israel (for produce that is available elsewhere) and ignoring the requests by its consumers, South African civil society and several Government Ministers. This approach by the management of Woolworths is tarnishing the image of the company and jeopardizing the share price of the firm (which has dropped consistently since the #BoycottWoolworths campaign). According to BDS South Africa this is deemed to be

reckless management when Woolworths could have, firstly, met with BDS South Africa and secondly, resolved this issue by sourcing its products either locally or from other countries. Woolworths is coming across as unconcerned and indifferent to customer retention. Woolworths claims to “believe in the principle of responsible citizenship.” However, importing products from Israeli companies in violation of the international boycott of Israel called by the indigenous Palestinians contradicts this principle.

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What would Woolworths have done during South African Apartheid?

To date, the management of Woolworths has refused to meet with BDS South Africa to resolve the matter. Woolworths says it is following government policy, but BDS South Africa says the Woolworths response is insufficient:

It would seem that Woolworths is not interested in aligning itself with human rights and ethical, responsible business practices. Government policy is the minimum that a company should respect; we would expect a company such as Woolworths to go beyond the minimum when it comes to respecting human rights and the wishes of consumers.

If Woolworths was a company based in, say, the UK, during apartheid, would Woolworths have adopted the position that it is “apolitical” (as it has done recently regarding Israel)? Would Woolworths not have respected the South African liberation struggle’s call for a boycott of Apartheid South African goods (regardless of whether the UK Government had officially called for that boycott or not)?

In a statement issued on 30 July 2014, Woolworths defended its sourcing of products from Israeli companies stating that it “has no political affiliations.” Buying from Israel, when many other markets are available (including local markets), is an endorsement of that country’s practices. Imagine buying from Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s and claiming to be “apolitical”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has famously said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

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Who and what is BDS?

In 2005, with Israel’s occupation, human rights abuses, violations of international law and illegal Israeli settlement activity increasing, Palestinians (inspired by the successful boycott and isolation of Apartheid South Africa) called on the international community to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and its companies until Israel complies with international law and respects human rights.

The Palestinian-led and internationally-backed BDS campaign is a practical, non-violent, goal-orientated, focused and strategic campaign to hold the State of Israel accountable to international law and human rights. The BDS campaign is also increasingly supported by (progressive) Israelis. The international isolation of Israel it is hoped will lead to the necessary conditions for a just peace to be negotiated – similar to what occurred in South Africa and brought about a democratic country for all our people

BDS has reached a tipping point. In the last few months alone, BDS-related successes include the decision by the US Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation. Moreover, the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, withdrew his entire stake (more than 2 billion rands) from the G4S security company that is involved in Israel’s human rights abuses.

Withdrawing consumer support from Woolworths is just one part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Join BDS South Africa and various South African civil society groups that have called for a monthly “National Day of Action” on the last Saturday of each month as part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign.

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South African Muslims reject violence in the name of Islam

 

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It is increasingly important and urgent for people of different faiths to stand together against a destruction of the sacredness of humanity. Let us who share the same values, take hands. As a Christian I support and have signed this petition by South African Muslims.

You too can sign their petition by clicking on this link.

Here is their full statement:

As South African Muslims, we reject the actions of groups that have adopted murder, kidnapping and violence against innocent people, the destruction of schools, sacred spaces and forced conversions, in the name of Islam. These include Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qa’eda, and more recently, the “Islamic State”.

We stand in solidarity with Christians, Yazidis, Jews and Muslims who have been forced to leave their homes, and have experienced terror and trauma at the hands of those who claim to speak for Islam, but are behaving in a manner contrary to the tenets of our faith.   We are proud Muslims who stand for justice. We stand with communities that have been divided, with women who have been raped, with churches that have been razed. We stand with children that have known nothing but war, and death. We condemn the action of groups that use the religion of Islam to justify their brutality against innocent men, women and children of all faiths.

We acknowledge the legitimate concerns of groups that have been economically and politically marginalised, but call for political reform based on inclusivity. We also believe that military intervention, led by the U.S government, is inappropriate and more harmful. We call for the responsible use of terms like “jihadist” or “Islamist”. The human rights abuses perpetrated by these terrorists and killers have nothing to do with the concept of Jihad which is to “struggle” or “strive” for goodness. Their behaviour is contrary to Islam’s teachings, and are repugnant to Muslims worldwide.

The Islam that we know and love is centred on values of justice, mercy and compassion. It stands in solidarity with all people facing persecution.    These organisations – and the states that sponsor them – do not act in our name. We reject this hijacking and misrepresentation of Islam’s teachings. We further reject all forms of sectarianism – in the South Africa that we love, and in majority Muslim countries.      “Remember that people are of two kinds; they are either your brothers in religion or your brothers in mankind.” –  Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muslim caliph and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad.

Sign the petition by clicking here.

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Invitation: Norway’s Dr Mads Gilbert in South Africa

This is not a battle between terrorism and democracy. Hamas is not the enemy Israel is fighting. Israel is waging a war against the Palestinian people’s will to resist. [Israel is waging a war against] the unbending [Palestinian] determination not to submit to the [Israeli] occupation. It is the Palestinian people’s dignity and humanity that will not accept that they are treated [by Israel] as third, fourth, fifth-ranking people.

These are the words of Norwegian surgeon Dr Mads Gilbert.

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While working treating the injured and wounded in Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital in the Palestinian Gaza Strip Dr Gilbert wrote a gut-wrenching open letter on his experiences in Gaza. It was published in The Independant. (Read my post on it here, and the letter in the newspaper here.)

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Even better –  attend one of Dr Gilbert’s talks in South Africa:

 

TUESDAY, 26 AUGUST AT 19H00
TYPE: Public Event
CITY: Johannesburg
GUESTS: Dr Mads Gilbert (Norway); Dr Aaron Motsoaledi (South African Minister of Health, TBC); COSATU President, Sidumo Dlamini; Dr Shereen Usdin (StopTheJNF and BDS South Africa) and others
VENUE: Protea Auditorium, STH Building, Bunting Road Campus (off Annet Road), University of Johannesburg, Auckland Park, Johannesburg
HOSTED BY: Channel Islam International, BDS South Africa, Cosatu, UJ PSF, SA Medical Association
COST: Free
CONTACT: 0740543826

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WEDNESDAY, 27 AUGUST AT 12H00
TYPE: Public event
CITY: Durban
GUESTS: Dr Mads Gilbert (Norway)
VENUE: Cane Growers Hall, ML Sultan Campus, Durban University of Technology
HOSTED BY: Channel Islam International, BDS South Africa, SA Students Congress (SASCO DUT) and DUT Student Representative Council
COST: Free
CONTACT: 0740543826

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WEDNESDAY, 27 AUGUST AT 18H00
TYPE: Fundraising Dinner
CITY: Durban
VENUE: NMJ Islamic Centre, Durban
HOSTS: Channel Islam International, BDS South Africa, KZN Palestinian Solidarity Front, Islamic Medical Association (IMA)
COST: R300
MORE INFO AND TO PURCHASE TICKETS: 0312081898 or 0312082529

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THURSDAY, 28 AUGUST AT 11H00
TYPE: Public Event
CITY: Cape Town
VENUE: 1H, Public Health Building, University of the Western Cape
HOSTS: Channel Islam International, BDS South Africa, UWC Palestine Solidarity Association
COST: Free

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THURSDAY, 28 AUGUST AT 19H00
TYPE: Public Event
CITY: Cape Town
VENUE: Molly Blackburn Auditorium, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town
HOSTS: Channel Islam International, BDS South Africa, UCT PSF
COST: Free
CONTACT: 0820619674

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FRIDAY, 29 AUGUST 10H00
TYPE: Seminar
CITY: Pretoria
TIME: 12h00
VENUE: HW Snynam Building University of Pretoria Medical Campus , Gezina
HOSTS: Department of Family Medicine
CONTACT: 0726370386

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FRIDAY, 29 AUGUST AT 19H00
TYPE: Main Fundraising Dinner for Gaza Ambulance Drive
CITY: Johannesburg
VENUE: LifeStyle Centre, Fordsburg, Johannesburg.
HOSTS: Channel Islam International and Purple Bandage
COST: R250
TICKETS: Click here for more information on this event.

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SATURDAY, 30 AUGUST
Dr Mads Gilbert to participate in national day of action against Woolworths as part of #BoycottWoolworths campaign

 

In commenting on the 2014 cycle of Israeli attacks on Gaza, Dr Gilbert added:

In 1938, the Nazis called the Jews ‘Untermenschen’, subhuman. Today, Palestinians are treated as ‘Untermensch’, as subhumans who can be bombed, killed, slaughtered by their thousands…however, solidarity is a powerful weapon…join the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel campaign…Israel is more isolated than ever and they deserve to be.

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Dr Mads Gilbert is a specialist in anesthesiology, the head of the emergency medicine department at the University Hospital of North Norway and has been adjunct professor of emergency medicine at the University of Tromsø since 1995. Gilbert is in South Africa on a Channel Islam International and BDS South Africa speaking tour between Tuesday the 26th of August and Saturday the 30th of August.

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A visit by three Zionists to Stellenbosch

The other night someone started to talk to me at an art exhibition.  After asking all the obvious questions over glasses of wine (his) and mineral water (mine) and learning of my studies in religion and culture, he asked: “So what do you think of Islam?” I almost choked.  Ok, so now he had my attention.

I mentioned my travels to Indonesia and that I recently spent three months in Palestine. “These people opened their hearts and their houses to me” I told him.  “And I witnessed gross human rights abuses in Palestine….”

Someone else started to talk to the man and I wandered away to look at the young artist’s first solo exhibition. The extraordinary colourful paintings featured a South African fishing community – salt of the earth, weathered faces. They are not rich in earthly belongings, but they have such joy that they made me smile too.

happiness by Wilko Roon

The man and I eventually ended up having a late supper in town where I listened to his myths on Islam and Palestinians.

“There are two sides to the story” he said (But why do you think that these two sides are equal? Ever heard of systemic injustice? Like in apartheid – in our country – remember?)

“It’s a complex situation” he tried to ease it up (Well it would help if Israel starts to adhere to international law…. that’s not complicated, it’s pretty much black and white).

And so it went on.  I did not move him one inch (or centimetre). “You can say what you want,” he concluded “but the Israelis are damn good with water.”  (Yeah….they also steal Palestinian water.)

But we did part on a nice foot and when he called about two weeks later to say that some Israelis were visiting Stellenbosch to talk about their country I thought I should better check it out.

The Israelis turned out to be an ex-Christian South African couple, previously from Klerksdorp.  White Afrikaans speaking people like me, but probably about ten or fifteen years younger.  Their conversion to Judaism a few years earlier was prompted by their realisation that Christmas trees are part of a pagan tradition. They burnt their tree, started to study their Bible and eventually felt that it was their destiny to “return” to Israel. They now live in Be’er Sheva just off the southern border of the West Bank.

This is also the home of the Ben Gurion University (the University of Johannesburg severed ties with UBG in 2011).

Accompanying this couple was another Jew, a man who also used to be Christian. He emigrated from Dortrecht in the Netherlands to Israel.

To them their lives as new-born Jews in Israel have real purpose.  During the first part of their presentation they told us about their religious task to take back all that “belongs” to them.

“Fifty to sixty years ago” they said, “the West Bank and the area where we live was a wilderness and nobody wanted to live there.” (Thoughts of the thriving Palestinian agriculture and trade before the Nakba – the Catastrophe of 1948 when over 700 000 Palestinians became refugees and Israel took possession of 530 Palestinian villages in addition to the land allotted to them by the UN – crossed my mind).  He showed us beautiful pictures of fields in bloom – exactly the way Yanoun (where I used to stay whilst I worked in the West Bank) looks like in spring…. green fields dotted with red poppies….all natural.  “No-one succeeded before to let the Negev blossom” he said. “Each year our crop increases and this is God’s blessing to us.” I kept my silence to listen him out.

The Dutch Jew quoted from the Bible (Gen 22:19, Ex 3:31, 1 Kings 5:1, 1 Kings 19:1-3, Num 21:1, 1 1 Sam 25:1, Lev 26:20,32, Ps 126, Ezekiel 36:8, and so forth) to demonstrate that God promised all of the current Israel plus the occupied territories of Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza and East-Jerusalem) to the modern state of Israel and to anybody else in the world who chooses to be Jewish.

“There is only one thing in the Middle East that matters” he told us, “and that is the truth.  We can now see how the things that our prophets mentioned are coming true.” (Thank goodness my Bible talks about an inclusive love and respect for all.)

It was as if he repeated the Netanyahu rhetoric of “truth – more truth – and the truth only.”   But even Netanyahu’s truth sometimes shifts…like when he realised that the illegal expropriation of Palestinian homes and lands could actually implicate Israeli officials in war crimes litigation as one can read by clicking on the following link:

Netanyahu ordered evacuation of Hebron home over fears of war crimes suits

“God’s will”, they explained, “is to bring the people of Israel back to Israel.” (Will the land always be enough no matter how many people from all over the world convert to Judaism and move there? What about the many Jews who do not agree with the Israeli government’s policy to take someone else’s land and resources by force….those who say that the Torah speaks of respect for others and human dignity without a political and nationalistic agenda?)

“Each nation needs to be in its own place where they belong and this only will bring peace” the presentation continued. (Therefore Dutch and South African Jews are… what…Israelis? What is a nation and what is a religion – is there perhaps a difference between the two?)

“The Arabs belong in Jordan.” (In other words those Palestinians whose families date back to the times of the Old Testament, many of them Christians, should move to Jordan? What about the millions of Palestinian refugees worldwide – all of them too? I am a South African whose ancestors came from the Netherlands, France and Italy a mere three hundred years ago…where is my “place”?)

The man from the art exhibition and I were the only people who attended the talk by the three people from the Beit Moriah organisation. It turned out they came to ask money for their community which they said had been falling apart lately. They need the money to integrate immigrants from Ethiopia and the USSR, to feed those living below the poverty line, to run schools, to train leaders, to turn neighbours into friends, to instil Jewish and Israeli knowledge and pride. (The money that Israel receives from the USA each year is more than what the USA gives to the entire developing world.)

We had a long discussion and I felt like a lone voice between three Zionists and one person with an un-nuanced admiration for Israel.  I tried to talk to my fellow (albeit ex-)South Africans with warmth and love and asked them if they really, honestly, in their inner-most beings as members of a post-apartheid society think that the solution lies in separation. They answered quickly and surely – they don’t – and therefore all of the land must belong to Israel. I actually referred to separation between people.

The woman told me how she once took her child to a Palestinian hospital and how well she and her child were treated. There she realised that she and the Palestinian women are both mothers. The couple acknowledged that settlers live illegally in the West Bank (this unsettled the guy I went with) and that they are deemed the “baddies”. They know this. But they deny settler violence and regard the United Nations, the Red Cross, the Quartet and Save the Children as leftish organisations – “Don’t talk to us about them” they told me.

They felt the IDF discriminates as much against them as they do against Palestinians. Yet when I told them some of the things I witnessed in the West Bank they asked if I am sure that the transgressors were indeed settlers.  They didn’t know about the demolitions, the personal harassments, the damage to property, the confiscation of water, the denial of basic human rights and all the double standards. These things are not true they asserted, in fact, they heard rumours and when they checked it out the army told them that none of this is true and therefore none of this is true.

Despite my very best intentions and much discipline to restrain myself, my many questions and my counter information clearly irritated them. Or perhaps not? Did I give them something to reflect on? I’m not sure of this. The gentleman whom I accompanied assured me afterwards that I launched an attack on the three guests from Israel who just wanted to tell us their story.

I arrived home feeling very emotional…but I also remembered the grace and dignity of the Palestinians in the midst of their humiliation, pain and loss. I owe it to them to engage with those who do not yet see Israel’s systemic injustices so that even though they do not hear me, they can still feel my longing for harmony and perhaps, maybe on a level outside their minds and beyond their emotions and religious convictions, something may start to shift.

Over centuries, the truth has always shifted. We know only in part. Therefore we should be modest about our claims on truth or a single right way. In fact, we start to recognise a plasticity in the nature of reality as Richard Tarnas explains in his book on the ideas that shape(d) Western worldviews (1993:406).

If this is indeed the case, it has immense implications for the human situation as it actually implies that you and I can participate in the creation of reality.  It means we can influence our own reality through our actions, and even through our attitudes, our thoughts and our prayers. As we are all inter-connected, we can also influence the reality beyond our own bodies. All of this means that what we do really matters (in the literal sense of the word). We actually have an impact on what happens.

This is (one of the reasons) why I don’t give up, and why a situation as the one I described here actually energises me in my quest for living a message of non-violence.  I’ll keep on trying.

Read also the profoundly moving testimony of Rabbi Brian Walt (who grew up in South Africa) on Affirming a Judaism and Jewish identity without Zionism.

Tarnas, Richard. 1993.  The Passion of he Western Mind. New York.