You might find a surprising addition on the shelves at South African retail giant Woolworths: dates the company says are imported from Palestine. Given the active boycott campaign against Woolworths by Palestinian-solidarity activists, the move has caused controversy. RA’EESA PATHER reports.
Rumblings of discontent have unfolded on social media over the past two weeks following the slow discovery of the dates from Palestine at various Woolworths stores.
The debate around the existence of the Palestinian state, and Israel’s occupation of territories in Palestine, have led many to question Woolworths’ decision to label the dates as imported from Palestine.
“The dates do come from Palestine. South African labelling legislation is very specific about country of origin and South Africa recognises the state of Palestine,” Woolworths told The Daily Vox via email.
The state of Palestine includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem mandated as the capital. Israel, the United States, the majority of Europe, and Australia are among the nations that do not recognise Palestine as a state.
The National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P), an umbrella group for several Palestinian-solidarity organisations, including Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA), embarked on a consumer boycott campaign against Woolworths last year.
The movement targeted Woolworths in a bid to discourage the retailer from stocking products sourced from Israel – pomegranate seeds, figs and pretzels. Although Woolworths has said that the boycott has not affected earnings, the retailer has faced pressure from pro-Palestinian supporters.
Last year Woolworths took BDS-SA to court after a series of protests by boycott supporters at Woolworths stores. The company, however, maintains that the campaign has not influenced its decision to stock produce from Palestine.
“We first learned of this supplier [of dates from Palestine] in 2012 but we have only recently been able to acquire a trading licence, allowing Woolworths to source dates from Palestine,” Woolworths said.
The BDS-SA movement has responded to the move, saying the boycott campaign will continue until Woolworths “terminates its trade links with Israel”.
“We view the selling by Woolworths of Palestinian dates as a deliberate attempt to undermine the growing #BoycottWoolworths campaign,” Kwara Kekana of BDS-SA told The Daily Vox via email.
BDS-SA said that Israeli agricultural export companies “are the main beneficiaries in the disposition of land and theft of natural resources of Palestinians”.
Woolworths has said it will continue to trade with Israel because South African government policy allows for it.
– Featured image by Hans Hillewaert via WikiMedia Commons.
Editor’s note: This article originally stated that the boycott campaign against Woolworths was organised by BDS-SA. Actually, it was organised by the NC4P (of which BDS-SA) is a member. The article has been updated to reflect this. In addition, the boycott campaign was not launched as a “response to the violence which erupted in Gaza last year” and we have removed this reference.