“Boycotting Woolworths is doing more harm than good” – Steven Friedman


The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign South Africa’s (BDS-SA’s) actions are doing more harm than good for Palestine. This is according to Professor Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg.

Writing on Facebook, Friedman said that the #boycottWoolworths campaign is “probably unwinnable”.

“Boycotting an entire store is a much greater risk than simply boycotting Israeli goods because, if stores remove the products, they risk alienating customers who want to buy them,” he wrote.

He also questioned how BDS-SA had come to choose Woolworths as the target of its campaign, rather than say Pick ‘n Pay and Dischem, which stock more goods sourced from Israel and have been more vocal in their support of the country.

“But why should we give the worst offenders a free pass just because a group of organisers decide we should –without telling us why?” he asked.

Friedman isn’t alone in his criticism of BDS-SA’s tactics. Radio 702 reporter and talk show host Stephen Grootes recently argued that people should be given the choice to boycott certain Israeli-sourced products instead of boycotting the shop in its entirety.

“Why does BDS believe we should be denied that choice here? The last time I heard, the South African Constitution guarantees us the very fundamental right of making up our own minds,” Grootes said.

Boycotting Woolworths comes across as bullying and possibly alienates many who also condemn Israel, he added.

Boycotts are an integral part of BDS South Africa’s movement to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The organisation believes that boycotting Woolworths and other stores that continue to sell Israeli products is a way for civilians to hold the Israeli government to account for their human rights violations.

You can read Friedman’s full post below.

– Featured image via Wikimedia Commons


  1. This article misses the point. It is a fallacy to believe that corporations should be neutral in the midst of oppressive regimes and systems. If Woolworths was importing and profiting from tshirts made by child labour in Pakistan, we will never accept this in the name of neutrality. No one will see a boycott as alienating the Pakistani community. If Woolworths was selling blood diamonds from conflict zones, their executives would get arrested for this. No one will care for maintaining neutrality. Yet this Friedman thinks buying produce from a conflict zone is acceptable?

    BDS is aware of the other corporations dealing with Israel. They are taking a targeted approach. Should they have started with Woolworths? That’s debatable. But this needed to start somewhere. It in no way alienates Jews. Israel does not supply anything that cant be obtained somewhere else. Jews have gotten by very well before Israel even existed.

    • I think you miss the point Khalid. The irony of the emancipation of South Africa from its Apartheid roots to a fully functioning constitutional democracy appears lost on you. Why should any organisation impinge on my rights to buy what I like, provided it’s legal.

      • I think your own point is lost on you. Why should you impinge on BDS’s right to call, legally, on SAfricans to boycott Woolworths?

        And in support of Khalids point, would you tolerate Woolworths selling products from a Racist AWB Farmer?

        • Then by that logic we might as well boycott those stores selling goods made in China due to China’s ongoing gross human rights violations including that of child labour. Oh but wait, we’d have to pretty much boycott every single shop then wouldn’t we?


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