Why I support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign

Why I support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign in South Africa
(by Rev Edwin Arrison, NC4P chairperson)

I feel as if I owe an explanation to many people about why I have decided to boycott Woolworths. This is a personal decision and is not something I can enforce on any other person, but I need to explain my decision and others can and must make their own decisions. If I have not convinced others through my arguments, then the responsibility lies with me and not with the other person.

One thing that I hope all humanity wishes for AND works for, is to have a as-non-violent-as-possible resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I do not think wishing for it is enough, and neither do I believe that non-violence is something only to be talked about: no, it is something ordinary citizens must DO. If there is no non-violent ACTION, then I believe we are simply complicit in the violence happening.

As a South African, I am the beneficiary of a sustained boycott campaign against Apartheid South Africa by ordinary citizens across the globe. The freedom I enjoy today is partly because women and men across the world refused to buy Apartheid South Africa’s goods, EVEN if their governments allowed those goods to be imported into their countries. Sometimes groups of people protested with placards in front of stores and Embassies – at other times a lone individual did that, and for all of them I am extremely grateful. I also know that boycotts and sanctions do have a positive effect even if it is experienced as negative.

Today, Israel practices Apartheid 2.0: Supporters of Israel will vehemently try and argue and deny this, but the experience of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and of many observers, is that Israel practices a very sophisticated form of apartheid. Besides these daily experiences and observations, there are research documents to prove that Israel practices Apartheid 2.0, one done by South Africa’s own Human Science Research Council (HSRC) and by the work of the Russell Tribunal. This information is widely available on the internet. Israel also continued to support Apartheid South Africa even after the USA decided to implement sanctions against South Africa.
There are also thousands of newspaper articles and videos that describe this. Supporters of Israel will want to argue that this happens in other countries as well, but in their case (and one of the key reasons why I feel so strongly about this) it is being done on the basis of some selected Biblical texts, the same Bible that I read every day. And I definitely do not agree that the current state of Israel complies to the basic tenets of the Biblical text, which is love, equality and justice.

My own view is that Israel makes life as difficult as possible for ordinary Palestinian people in order to force them out and get them to emigrate so that Israel can win a “demographic war”, in other words, for Israelis to be in the majority. This strategy has worked well with tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians who are economically strong: most of them have emigrated and now live in different parts of the world. The ones who remain are being steadfast, but I know how difficult it is for them there. I therefore find the “Christian” support for Israel completely weird and unacceptable: here is a country who has, through big and small actions, driven out Christians from the Holy Land and yet other Christians find reasons, most of it completely illogical, to support them. Right now, Israel is trying to make Jerusalem a Jewish-only city through various actions. It is time we all wake up to what Israel is doing and how it continues to steal more and more land.
Coming from a country that practiced apartheid in all sorts of ways (and using the Bible to justify it), I CANNOT condone the same situation happening in another part of the world and be quiet about it. President Mandela had a very deep intuition when he said that “South Africans will not be free until the people of Palestine are free”. He was completely right, and people such as Archbishop Tutu and many others support the struggle of the Palestinian people despite the worst kind of criticisms they face.

Woolworths chooses to trade with Apartheid Israel I described above: It must be said that Woolworths is not the only company that trades with Apartheid Israel, and that the South African government enables this trade to happen. For that reason, 200 000 people marched to Parliament on August 9 to call on our government to stop this but they have still not done so. But we will not leave it there and we will continue to expose our government’s double standards. That is a discussion for another article….

Woolworths has now been approached (through letters that I and others have written to their CEO) by us to stop trade with Israel and they have deliberately CHOSEN to ignore these calls. Having made this clear and deliberate choice against stopping trade with Israel, it places Woolworths in a category where they are now deliberately culpable in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.

Woolworths’ claim to be ethical, if not THE most ethical company: Those who make claims about their high ethical standards must be challenged to live by it. This is part of the reason why I support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign

The need to focus on one retailer (from a strategic and practical point of view): Sometimes people speak about other companies who also have ties with Israel, and of course this is true. If others feel they should boycott a few companies, they should go ahead and do that. But to be effective AS A CAMPAIGN, I strongly believe in the need to focus on one target and deal with that. You will simply dilute your energy, resources and capacities if you try to do too many things at the same time. At another time, when more people have joined and there are more resources, the campaign can be broadened to the other retailers who also have links with Israel, but I strongly believe in the need to focus on one…it is the only way that the campaign will succeed.

These are some of my most important reasons why I boycott Woolworths. People are free to challenge me but I hope that at the very least you will try to understand why I feel so strongly about this. The moment when Woolworths stop its trade with Israel, I will probably support it again. But not while it trades with a country that practices Apartheid 2.0 daily, and that on the basis of a few selected Biblical texts.

If you wish to join the boycott, here are some ways to participate:
1. The simplest way is obviously to just stop buying at Woolworths, and do nothing more than that, and that will be enough for some people.
2. Some clients can also write to Woolworths to ask them to take them off their address lists.
3. Some clients can close their accounts if they feel this is what they are able to do.
4. Use Social media to mention that you support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign.
5. Write letters to the Editors of newspaper if they mischaracterise the campaign.
6. Some people can demonstrate in front of Woolworths stores from time to time.
7. Some people can demonstrate inside Woolworths stores by, for example, filling up trollies and refusing to pay until that particular branch manager of Woolworths gives an undertaking to not stock Israeli goods.
8. Some people can write to the PIC, that has almost 20% shares in Woolworths.

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