The Jewish Report Editorial

Do BDS flashmobs in Woolworths matter?

  • Geoff mugshot
Some Israel supporters tend to downplay the impact of BDS as a small group who make a lot of noise, but with little major impact. This is a mistaken attitude: In South African society, where most people know almost nothing about Israel and Palestine, the ground is fertile for uninformed people to become inherently anti-Israel without even realising it.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Oct 02, 2014

It is of great concern, for example, when a spokesman of the ANC Youth League in Cape Town, Braam Hanekom, publicly supports the BDS protests against Woolworths for selling Israeli products, and says: “The apartheid state of Israel should be boycotted economically. We should not be paying for the bullets and the bombs that are used against children in Palestine.” The company says it complies with government guidelines on Israeli products and the origin of every product was stated on the label.

Last Saturday, BDS staged a successful protest at the checkout queue leading at the huge, brand new Woolworths branch in Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg. A group of some 20 BDS protesters suddenly burst into wild song and dance, accompanied by a blaring stereo loudspeaker stuffed into a trolley. Onlookers initially thought this was a publicity stunt by Woolworths to draw attention to their new store.  

But when 15 security guards in orange shirts converged on the dancers and began pushing them out of the store, and the slogan “Free, free Palestine!” was being shouted full-throat by demonstrators, it quickly turned into another full-blown protest.

For half an hour there was pushing and shoving, shouting and arguing, as security tried to eject the protesters from the mall corridors out to the pavement. They resisted forcefully, insisting on their “peaceful” intention to convince Woolworths to stop selling goods from “Apartheid Israel” and appealing to the black security guards that the Palestinian struggle was just like the black liberation struggle against apartheid in this country.

The fracas ended with protesters sitting on the ground in the parking lot, singing African liberation songs, sprinkled with phrases about Palestine and “Apartheid Israel”, leaving it up to the security of the parking area to deal with them.

Among shoppers and clients in adjoining stores and restaurants, most were confused and others upset by the anger and brawling with the security guards; some were amused and a few even ended up dancing to the music with no connection to the politics which had prompted it; others who understood the politics, either shouted support, or asked why the demonstrators weren’t protesting against the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed, or the barbarity of ISIS.

Are these BDS protests merely an irritation, a blip on the screen which will appear as nothing more than a tiny footnote in the history books? Or is the campaign against “Apartheid Israel” gaining enough ground here and worldwide to actually make a difference to the big picture?

If one looked at the Rosebank centre and the new Woolworths store five minutes before the demo, then five minutes after it had ended, it would seem to be merely an irritation. Shoppers continued shopping, coffee-drinkers at the restaurants continued drinking their favourite brew, lovers continued strolling arm in arm, and all was “normal”.

That may be true. But it would be unwise for supporters of Israel to reject the BDS phenomenon as insignificant. The truth is that the world is sick and tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the ever-repeating rounds of futile “peace talks” leading nowhere, the refusal or inability of leaders on both sides to make the necessary compromises to actually make peace a possibility, and the predictable speeches at the UN always pointing blame at the other side.

Hanekom vowed on behalf of the ANCYL that the campaign would be intensified until Woolworths heeded its demands, notwithstanding President Jacob Zuma’s assurances to Jewish leadership about the ANC’s “balanced approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And many of Rosebank Mall’s customers who had hardly ever heard of Israel, have now heard “Apartheid Israel” as their introduction to it.

The passion of the BDS protesters at Woolworths shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.



  1. 2 David Abel 05 Oct
    While certainly agreeing that "the passion of the BDS protestors at Woolworths should'nt be dismissed lightly", it is also essential to stress that while "the world may be sick and tired of the Israel/Palestinian conflict", Israel's security is paramount and non-negotiable. And it cannot be sacrificed to appease enemies who wish to destroy her, or a sick and tired world.  
  2. 1 Choni 06 Oct
    Why do I get this sickening feeling that Mr. Sifrin is siding with B.D.S., and would like Israel to change it's policies vis-a vis the 'peace process'?
    Please tell me I'm wrong.


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