Nasty business: Jewish companies weather boycott campaign
As the world marked 85 years since Kristallnacht, a pogrom in which Jewish businesses were viciously targeted by the Nazis in November 1938, anti-Israel extremists in South Africa chose to target Jewish-owned businesses in November 2023.
In an insidious, malicious, and shameless manner, they vandalised stores, threatened Jewish businesses via anonymous phone calls and social media, and attempted to create a reign of terror so that Jewish businessmen and women would hide in the shadows.
However, their campaign had the opposite effect, with Jewish business owners telling the SA Jewish Report that they feel prouder and stronger than ever, and are still passionate about contributing to the South African economy.
“The day after 7 October, I woke up and found I had lost 70% of my clients,” says Sarah*, an entrepreneur who asked not to be named. A halaal business, she had many Muslim clients who she knew well. But that morning, they began to boycott her, simply because they knew she was Jewish. She had never made any public statement in support of Israel. As the days went on, she started getting anonymous phone calls.
A woman called to say, “You Jews are filth and scum. We need to wipe you out. We know you live in a Jewish area,” recalls Sarah. She also got many threatening messages on social media. “Most of my clients are doctors and lawyers,” she says. She had got to know many of them well, yet these were the same people who waged a vicious campaign against her, using their relationship with her as a weapon.
“I feel like world events are just an excuse for the antisemitism that was already there,” she says. “They had done their research, and were ready to pounce.”
Though being targeted was unnerving, Sarah hasn’t let it get her down. “I don’t want these people as clients anyway, as this has shown who they really are,” she says. “While it is upsetting losing so many customers, I’ll rebuild. I feel strong, and I’ll rise above it.”
Meanwhile, anti-Israel extremists continued their insidious campaign against Cape Union Mart and its chief executive, Philip Krawitz, spreading lies that they continue to hawk every time tensions flare in the Middle East. One TikTok user, @_gi_jess_, who has 13 000 followers, took this further, branding stores and clothing labels with stickers saying, “I have blood on my hands. Boycott Apartheid Israel. #FreePalestine.” The video reached almost 82 000 people. On a separate video, she said she has “Jewish/Afrikaner blood [and is] raising Lebanese Muslim kids”.
The YouthForAlQuds organisation has called for a “National Day of Action” picketing outside Cape Union Mart stores on 18 November.
“Social media pages have exploded with negative comments about me and my company,” says Krawitz. “In many cases, the comments are simply a regurgitation of allegations going back to 2017 when it was claimed that I was the largest donor to the Israeli army. Needless to say, that’s totally fallacious. I’ve never given funds to the Israeli army or, for that matter, to any army anywhere in the world. I’ve supported humanitarian projects in Israel, which, in virtually all cases, have benefitted both Jews and Muslims, encouraging them to find commonalities.
“I’m a proud South African who loves his country and will do everything possible to make better lives for all,” says Krawitz. “Our company could easily focus expansion on international markets. However, we’ve chosen rather to direct our investment at creating jobs in South Africa. If we can create more jobs, we’ll reduce poverty. If we reduce poverty, we’ll reduce crime. If we reduce crime, we’ll attract investment. If we attract investment, we’ll grow our economy.
“We employ close to 400 Muslim staff, many of whom hold senior positions and who have served us loyally for decades,” he says. “Sadly, those encouraging boycotts may limit our growth and prejudice not only new jobs but existing jobs within our company. In 90 years, we’ve never forcibly retrenched a single employee. We hope to be able to maintain that record.
“We’ve experienced boycotts and protests as well as vandalism in certain of our stores,” he says. “While we reserve all our legal rights, we’ve taken a decision to avoid conflict wherever possible in the hope that reason and sanity will prevail. I love South Africa, and will do all I can to benefit our country. Jerusalem is mentioned 660 times in our Bible, and I’ll also proudly proclaim my love and affection for Jerusalem and the state of Israel.”
Among many other large, medium, and small businesses, Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream was also targeted. “Last year, Paul visited Israel for a wedding and posted photographs from his holiday on his personal Instagram account,” says Courtney Glajchen, speaking on behalf of Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream. “The photographs weren’t politically charged. Their subjects were snippets of Jerusalem and the Old City. What transpired was a defamatory, anti-Israel, and antisemitic smear campaign of Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream.
“With the recent Israel-Hamas war, the story has resurfaced, and there’s a BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] campaign to boycott Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream and other Jewish-owned businesses. This campaign is clearly a result of pure antisemitism hidden under the guise of an anti-Israel campaign.”
Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream was featured on numerous “boycott” lists and pages circulating on social media. “We were attacked on our Instagram and Facebook pages and spammed with insulting comments directed at both Paul and Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream,” says Glajchen. “Some of our stockists were tagged in the comments and warned to stop stocking our products. Last week, one of our stockists refused to accept delivery of ice cream ‘because of what was going on in Israel’. We engaged with him robustly on the matter.
“We’ve largely ignored the abuse,” she says. “We’ve continued business as usual in our operations, and carried on posting regularly on our social media. Our sales remain good although it has caused friction with a handful of our stockists. We’re thankful to loyal customers of all religions and backgrounds who continue to support us in trying times.”
To other business owners being targeted, she says, “It’s a precarious situation, and as much as you are targeted, defamed, and boycotted, you should never apologise for being Jewish and for believing in the state of Israel’s right to exist. We’ll certainly never apologise for this.
“Paul’s Homemade Ice Cream is a proudly South African, multiracial company employing people of a multitude of religions, beliefs, and ethnicities. We stand by our brand, our code of conduct, our employees, and in the belief that brands shouldn’t be bullied by any cancel campaign, antisemitic or otherwise.
“The South African Jewish community shares an incredible bond and has the power to come together in difficult times,” she says. “We implore the Jewish community to get behind Jewish-owned businesses that are being targeted and show their support by buying products or using the services of these businesses under attack, as well as showing support on social media platforms.”
Pro-Palestinian groups also called for a boycott of Africa Padel after chairperson Rob Hersov expressed support for Israel, and planned to picket outside the courts on 18 November.
*Not her real name. Name withheld to protect her.