Woolworths will continue stocking Israeli goods

After Julius Malema and the EFF’s calls for a boycott of Woolworths, there was some consternation in South Africa’s Jewish community as to whether they should not boycott Woolworths too: for acceding to Malema’s demands!

However, according to the South African Jewish Report, this is not the case and “Woolworths hadn’t given the ‘demands’ a second thought.”

“Less than 0.1 per cent of our food is sourced from Israel,” says Woolworths. That’s a far cry from the percentage of their business they do with SA Jewry, although that never factored into their decision. “Woolworths has no political affiliations,” they stated emphatically.

And, as a sign of good faith to the Jewish community, Woolies have posted the following statement on their corporate website:

‘Sourcing from Israel’

“We can confirm that we have not stopped stocking Israeli products in Woolworths stores.

“Woolworths has no political affiliations. We respect our customers’ right to make individual purchasing choices, which is why we clearly label every product’s country of origin and fully comply with government guidelines on product from Israel.

“Less than 0.1% of our food is sourced from Israel,” reads their notice.

Panic set in community

Woolworths confirmed to Jewish Report that their customer support lines were inundated with calls from Jewish customers – although they have no idea where the rumours started.

So rattled was SA Jewry by the concerns that the SA Zionist Federation issued two statements to their mailing lists and the media reaffirming Woolworths’ position.

Letter to the South African Jewish Report

The SAJR published the following “letter from reader Joane Frank, which is representative of the numerous enquiries that SAJR received”:

This morning my daughter reported to me that she heard the DJ on the Morning Mayhem show of ChaiFM [Jewish community radio station in Johannesburg – editor’s note] state that Woolworths will no longer be stocking Israeli goods.

This naturally upset me and I called the Woolworths loyalty card department to ask them what their records reflect that I spend. I didn’t hear the name of the person who took my call, but he happily stated that my average spend is some R8 000 per year. This was then the amount, I informed him, that I will no longer be spending. I stated that I have been shopping at Woolworths for over thirty years and if it is indeed true that Woolworths will no longer stock Israeli goods then I will return my loyalty card and never set foot in the store again.

Now I may not have the conversation word perfect because I wasn’t taking notes, but the following was clear: the Woolworths man on the phone spoke with knowledge of the issue and responded that Israeli goods only make up about 1% of Woolworths stock and that Woolworths are considering the position. Considering the position?

Does this mean that Woolworths are just contemplating not stocking Israeli goods? And why? My daughter called the Woolworths Customer Service line to be told that the issue is “under review” which infers a decision was already taken or that they are indeed contemplating such a decision.

Following my inquiries to the Chevrah Kadisha, Tania at the Chev called me back to say she had spoken to a Woolworths “PR” at the head office who said this is all just a rumour.

Well was it?

As ChaiFM had broadcast the news I assumed this wasn’t just on rumour and requested their comment. Kathy Kaler responded that she spoke to the head of Woolworths marketing who put her on to the Woolworths Media liaison who confirmed that in fact Woolworths will no longer be stocking produce from Israel, and that they may overturn this when they see the reaction from the community but as it stands, there is no Israeli produce in the stores.

I’m still not shopping at Woolworths any more until I hear the company’s satisfactory stance on the matter, especially in view of the overt hostilities being expressed towards the Jewish community during this latest Israeli ordeal. Whether we hear it as crude threats or masterful public relations, we should take care to understand the underlying sentiment.

There are a growing number of distressing anecdotes about local commercial entities who are now refusing to sell or give services to Jews. Could the Jewish Report encourage members of the community to report these incidents for publication so that the safety implications could register on the communal scale? This would also help give the lie to the we’re-not-anti-Semitic-we’re-only-anti-Israel agenda.

Johannesburg Jews are going to protest on Saturday 3 August to show their support for Israel at Huddle Park, in the north-east of Johannesburg, close to where most Jews live.