“I did not invest in Woolworths to support Israel”

An open letter to Woolworths concerning its refusal to boycott Israeli goods, penned by an investor in Woolworths, is gaining traction online.

“As an investor in Woolworths I am compelled to reveal my concern about the image and the ethics of the company in which I invested a considerable amount of my savings,” writes Marthie Momberg, who is an independent writer , researcher and consultant.

Momberg told the Daily Vox that she is a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS-SA) supporter and a member of the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P). The letter was read out at a media conference organised by BDS SA and NC4P on Tuesday.

The full text reads as follows:

As an investor in Woolworths I am compelled to reveal my concern about the image and the ethics of the company in which I invested a considerable amount of my savings.

The Woolworths brand is increasingly questioned. Woolworths imports products such as pretzels, couscous, matzos, coriander and fruit from Israel. The real issue is not the number of Israeli products on the shelves of Woolworths, but rather the existence of contracts between Woolworths and Israeli businesses. Israel is well known for its continued, systemic violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (Gaza, the West Bank and East-Jerusalem). Peaceful, economic resistance against Israel and her partners is by no means a protest against Jews, but against a systemic regime of oppression. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) is part of an international strategy similar to the one which helped to end South African apartheid. Major businesses and churches, across the globe have already implemented BDS. They did so not because they are politically driven, but for ethical reasons.

Woolworths say they are an ethical company. Woolworths’ products are of outstanding quality and are loved by South Africans. It is the result of dedication, courage and a commitment to quality. And yet, with regard to their relation with Israel Woolworths argues that they adhere to the law and need not do anything more. Ethical behaviour demands moral leadership. Laws are prerequisites that apply to everyone. It codifies practices, ideals, norms and moral values as the minimum that is required in a society, whilst ethics starts where the law ends. What would the quality of Woolworths’ products be if their business strategy simply adheres to the law and ignores going the extra mile? As shareholder I expect a consistent, reliable integrity from Woolworths. It implies responsible ethics in line with the growing international appeal for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. South African Karstens Farms has already demonstrated ethical leadership by cutting its ties with Israeli exporter Hadiklaim. Woolworths can be the first South African retail company to take this step.

As a person who values the human dignity of all I, together with South Africans from all walks of life, support ‘the non-violent boycott against Woolworths. With our history of apartheid South Africans have a special role to play in saying no to Israel’s decades long institusionalised violations of the Palestinians. It is now our turn to express our moral support with the oppressed. As shareholder I expect Woolworths to practice what they preach and to restore trust in the business. The integrity – and the viability – of a brand has to do with values that are embodied.

  1. Derek says

    In all fairness, and not being persuaded by an ideological stance. I want to ask Momberg if she owns anything made in China. Where no freedom of religion exists, and those found to practice their own religion including the Moslem religion is being persecuted. I have been to China and i also have been to Israel. I really think it is unfair to have a convenient divestment program to countries that does not have a great influence on South Africa. The real courage is to ask China and other countries that does not have religious freedom to have it, or we will divest. But off-course the “in” thing to do, is to divest from a speck of human suffering, and not to see the whole. In some way the idea is that if people divest from Israel, it will solve all the problems. Another thing is, yes it is easy to divest from Israel, But it is usually Palestinian jobs that go. Let us not pick on the insy tinsy small island countries such as Israel (that allows freedom of religion) and look at the inconvenient truth, divestment that would really hurt for a just cause.

  2. Anon says

    I agree with you regarding China BUT I also believe that is okay to support a campaign even when there are many others worthy of being supported too. The argument that “how can you support this when X is so much worse” can be applied to everything and anything. Should we be paralysed into doing nothing then? If you feel strongly about China then find a group that is doing something about it – build support and momentum for it to be taken up. People are capable of supporting more than one cause. Don’t denigrate one cause because they are not fighting for every cause.

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