Pro-Palestinian group’s threatened protest forces Woolies to withdraw its popular Israeli pearl couscous
The retailer says while it is neither pro-Palestinian nor anti-Israel, it must put the wellbeing and safety of its staff and customers first.
Woolworths has been forced to withdraw its popular Israeli pearl couscous from its shelves after it received “credible” threats about protests and a consumer boycott, which it feared could have put staff and customers at risk.
The threats to #BoycottWoolworths emanated from the Africa4Palestine movement, which had launched the campaign to force Woolworths to stop selling Israeli products.
It said it would target other retailers to follow suit.
On Friday, the retailer issued a statement titled “Setting the record straight” in which it affirmed that it was neither pro-Palestinian nor anti-Israeli and that media articles claiming that it supports an Israeli boycott were false.
“Despite reports commending us for taking a pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli position — we have not. Woolworths would like to explicitly affirm that we neither support nor boycott anyone.
“Woolworths has no political affiliations and does not support any political party, organisation or country.”
It said that in a polarised world where misinformation, misunderstanding and suffering were fuelling heightened emotion, it refused to add to the division and divisiveness.
“Many of us have been deeply affected in various ways by the atrocities and death of innocent people we are witnessing on our screens. Intolerance is on the rise and, we as an organisation, cannot and will not add fuel to the fire, and will always continue to seek ways to bring people together.”
The retailer said employee and customer safety was its top priority.
“Given the significant and credible threats we have received, and in order to do our best to safeguard our employees and customers, we took the decision to pre-emptively suspend the sale of the one product we had on our shelves that was imported from Israel.”
When asked about the threats, a spokesperson said Woolworths had received various threats of protest action aimed at its stores, “which has the potential to put our people and customers in harm’s way”.
While Woolworths did not specify where the threats of protest emanated from, the pro-Palestinian organisation, Africa4Palestine — formerly known as BDS South Africa — issued a statement the previous day, in which it welcomed the decision not to stock Israeli products.
On its website, Africa4Palestine, which claims to be Africa’s largest Palestinian solidarity human rights movement, said not stocking products from Israel “aligns with the principles of ethical consumerism. By not stocking Israeli products, a company demonstrates its commitment to being a socially responsible corporate citizen.
“Our organisation’s communication with Woolworths was out of concern over allegations that Woolworths is supporting Israel. We wrote to the CEO as we felt it important to engage directly and we thank the company and him for their responsiveness.”
The group thanked supporters who had heeded their calls to #BoycottWoolworths and said the campaign was “no longer necessary”.
The EFF, ANC Youth League and Al-Jama-ah welcomed the retailer’s decision to stop selling the Israeli product.
“This brings to an end the calls for a boycott of Woolworths. Africa4Palestine encourages other companies to follow Woolworths’ example and thus we will be engaging other retailers to follow the Woolworths example.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has previously described Africa4Palestine as an “anti-Semitic” and “extremist” organisation.
On Thursday, Deputy International Relations Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini said calls for the Israeli embassy’s closure “have merit”, after numerous calls for South Africa to cut diplomatic ties with the country. DM