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Palestinians and groceries at Woolworths




In the latest development in the BDS versus Woolworths saga, the company – which sells a tiny amount of Israeli products such as figs, pomegranates and pretzels – has secured a court order against BDS protesters who have been storming into its stores, brandishing placards and chanting slogans, doing flashmobs, till jamming and other tactics.

BDS actions even provoked student group Cosas to dump a pig’s head in what they perceived to be the kosher shelf of a Cape Town Woolworths branch – which BDS somewhat sheepishly distanced itself from for its anti-Semitic overtones and because it also impacted on Woolworths’ Muslim customers.

The court ruling enforces Woolworths’ rights to “trade free of threats and intimidation”. The National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P), Cosatu, BDS and other organizations, promised to hold a protest outside the Woolworths Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Cape Town this week Wednesday.

BDS tried to soften the thrust of the court ruling, saying it would “tone down its in-store protest actions” but vowed to intensify its #BoycottWoolworths campaign in social media. But clearly, Woolworths is, to its credit, not going to be intimidated – a good message for other stores who might face the same assault.

It is not necessarily the case, however, that a Palestinian would steer clear of Woolworths. There are obviously different views among Palestinians – they are not monolithic. The state visit to South Africa this week by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, offers a good opportunity to ask him that question personally. President Jacob Zuma is hosting Abbas for the first time since the bloody Gaza conflict with Israel earlier this year, which was triggered by Hamas firing thousands of rockets into Israel.

The seven week war sparked large rallies in South Africa against Israel, with tens of thousands of people joining marches in major cities.

South Africa was seen during the era of President Thabo Mbeki as a potentially important player in mediating between the sides, even hosting the Spier gathering in the Western Cape, which brought Palestinian and Israeli political leaders together for talks – but since then it has largely withdrawn from this role. Now it seems there is a move to re-engage. Abbas’ visit might be setting the stage for that.

When Abbas attended the funeral of Nelson Mandela a year ago, he was asked at a news conference in Johannesburg about his position on a total boycott of Israel. He said flatly that he did not support it, but wanted people around the world not to deal with Israeli settlements and whatever products they produced.

“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” said Abbas. “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.”

Abbas’ statement at the time took some of the wind out of BDS’ sails, angering the movement and its international supporters. It had echoes, they said, to what Bantustan leaders used to say during apartheid to appease the regime and safeguard their own positions.

Abbas has consistently rejected violent resistance to Israel, while supporting popular nonviolent resistance. The BDS movement would fit comfortably into the latter category. BDS spokesmen such as Muhammed Desai, have often emphasised that they are a non-violent activist group.

It will be interesting to hear what Abbas has to say now. Would he shop at Woolworths while BDS activists were protesting outside on the pavement calling for a boycott? What would Desai say to him?

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nat cheiman

    Nov 27, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    ‘Good on Woolies. BDS got a lekker klap. Mind you, they are probably getting someone literate to read and interpret the court order for them. True to form, Desai’s brain hasn’t caught up with his tongue yet. Clearly, there is no deal. BDS must obey the order of court or face the consequences. Forget \”getting together\”to sort things out. One wrong move and contempt of court proceedings will be instituted. Woolies are not playing games.’

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