/ 1 August 2014

Pressure on Woolies to drop Israeli goods

Woolworths food and clothing retailer.
Woolworths food and clothing retailer.

South African retailer Woolworths has confirmed that it has not stopped stocking Israeli products in its stores.

This follows calls from the country’s pro-Palestinian movement for consumers to boycott stores that import products from Israel, in the wake of its offensive against Gaza, which has seen more than a thousand people – many of them children – killed, and thousands of others displaced.

“We can confirm that we have not stopped stocking Israeli products,” read a statement titled Sourcing from Israel, published on the Woolworths website this week.

“Woolworths has no political affiliations. 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.

“Less than 0.1% of our food is sourced from Israel,” it said.

Ant Katz, writing in the South African Jewish Report, said that Woolworths had “had demands from unions and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] to stop carrying Israeli goods”, prompting the store to release the statement on its website.

Two notices
“SA Jewry almost platzed today after all the social media to-ing and fro-ing about Woolworths stopping to import Israeli products went completely viral. Things got so hot, in fact, that the SA Zionist Federation even issued two notices assuring the community that this was not the case,” he wrote. “And, as a sign of good faith to the Jewish community, Woolies have posted the statement on their corporate website.”

But a Woolworths press officer dismissed Katz’s article as “tongue-in-cheek”, saying that she had only received “a few queries” from both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian customers.

“We publish statements like that often, even if it’s just two people asking. We’ve not been contacted directly by any of the big organisations. I wouldn’t say we’ve been inundated with queries.”

Yet Muhammed Desai, the national co-ordinator of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions South Africa, said that the movement had been inundated with calls, emails and tweets asking for clarity on Woolworths’s stocking of Israeli products.

“We support the boycott of Woolworths until it drops its Israeli products, which include fruits and vegetables. We also encourage members of the community to write letters, engage in nonviolent protests, pickets and other actions against Woolworths,” he said.

Desai said that the retailer’s defence for stocking the products was “a feeble one”.

“Buying from Israel, when many other markets are available [including local markets], is an endorsement of that country’s practices,” he said.

“If Woolworths claims to follow ethical business practices, how can it purchase from a country that is currently committing war crimes against the Palestinian people and a country that our own Human Sciences Research Council has found to be guilty of practising apartheid?

“We ask Woolworths to be on the right side of history, drop its Israeli products and support local markets.”

Woolworths is not the only retailer that stocks produce imported from Israel. But at the time of going to print, only Pick n Pay responded to questions for confirmation.

“In terms of imports, Pick n Pay is guided by South African government policy on which countries to trade with,” said David North, Pick n Pay’s head of corporate affairs and strategy.

“Well over 90% of our products are sourced from within South Africa. We do import a few products, mainly when South African products are out of season. Purchases from Israel represent a minuscule percentage, as do imports from other countries, for example Pakistan and Syria.” – Additional reporting by Sipho Kings