Woolworths Taking Human Rights Organisation To Court over Israel Boycott

14 October 2014

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South African retail and corporate giant Woolworths is taking the Palestine solidarity and human rights organisation BDS South Africa, to court over the Israel boycott. BDS South Africa is a member of the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P).

The use (or rather, abuse) by Woolworths of our courts to force BDS South Africa to end the #BoycottWoolworths campaign is a sign of the desperation of Woolworths and the growing impact of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Woolworths, in its court papers (page 14, paragraph 21) state that: “With the imminent onset of the festive season and the expected increased customer activity the Applicant [Woolworths] no longer has a choice. It now has to act in order to protect its business operations…the present court application is accordingly the Applicant’s [Woolworths] only option to restore the rule of law and to enable it to trade freely as it has done until the [#BoycottWoolworths] protests started.” 
Firstly, by Woolworth’s own admission the #BoycottWoolworths campaign is having an impact. Secondly, Woolworths claims, amongst other things, that they are concerned about a drop in business for the upcoming festive season - this it would seem is the intention of their court application. Thirdly, however, we disagree that the only option that Woolworths has was to go to court. The NC4P and BDS South Africa view this legal bullying and intimidation by a retail giant such as Woolworths of an activist organisation like BDS South Africa as unnecessary. This issue could easily be resolved if Woolworths had simply accepted the numerous requests by the NC4P and BDS South Africa to meet and resolve this issue. 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. 

The NC4P and BDS South Africa maintain that all of our #BocyottWoolworths protest actions that have been carried out by us have always been non-violent. Woolworths in a press statement claim that the court order is due to #BoycottWoolworths protests going "beyond raising awareness and include harmful actions including ... intimidation of customers and employees and damage to goods”. The NC4P and BDS South Africa categorically deny ever intimidating customers, employees or damaging goods. These false accusations are the tactics used by Israel to intimidate peaceful protests against the Israeli regime. Woolworths is now mimicking Israel.

Furthermore, Woolworths is now clearly going out of its way to defend its trade with Apartheid Israel. This intended interdict is a clear attempt by Woolworths to protect Israeli agricultural companies that are the main beneficiaries and directly complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and theft of natural resources. Woolworths currently imports 12 million Rands of mostly agricultural products from Israel. These products could easily be sourced locally or from countries other than Israel. 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 South African 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.”

We further note Woolworths’s bias towards Israel. A few months ago a group of pro-Israeli supporters from the pro-Israeli organisation Bnei Akiva draped themselves in Israeli flags and harassed customers. They forcefully handed out Israeli imported produce from Woolworths to shoppers inside Woolworths. Bnei Akiva itself posted pictures of this pro-Israeli protest inside Woolworths on its official FaceBook page ( Woolworths it would seem has endorsed this action of the pro-Israeli organization Bnei Akiva.

Inspired by the successful boycott and isolation of Apartheid South Africa, in 2005 Palestinians 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. Early in August 2014 (in line with the BDS call) a call for the complete boycott of Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by the NC4P, BDS South Africa, COSATU, ANC Youth League, MJC and various others. The #BoycottWoolworths campaign (as it has been dubbed) has received wide spread attention and support from various South African Government Ministers, artists, well known personalities and anti-apartheid stalwarts. To date, the management of Woolworths has refused to meet so that this issue can be resolved.

Woolworths also claims in its press release that the #BoycottWoolworths campaign has "had a profound effect" on many customers. We do agree with this, the #BoycottWoolworths campaign has had the profound impact of educating people about Israel's Apartheid policies, making people aware of Woolworth’s trade links with Apartheid Israel and its arrogant refusal to give up those trade links in the face of growing consumer calls.


Kwara Kekana, BDS South Africa Campaigns Coordinator: 0740543826
Muhammed Desai, BDS South Africa National Coordinator: 0842119988
Reverend Edwin Arrison, Chair of NC4P: 0847351835