Woolworths said weaker consumer spending and economic growth would make trading conditions more difficult this year. File picture: Independent Media

Cape Town - Activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement bombarded the directors of Woolworths with questions at its Annual General Meeting (AGM), calling for them to abort all trade with Israel.

Members of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign and the National Coalition 4 Palestine all bought single shares in Woolworths Holdings Limited in order to get entry to the company’s AGM which was held at the Cape Town head office, yesterday.

The shareholder-activists also had the backing of long time Woolworths Holding Limited shareholders who gave them their proxies with a mandate to support the campaign.

The AGM started with the group of shareholder-activists introducing themselves to the board of directors. The BDS group had prepared a list 30 questions to be put to the board of directors.

But the meeting soon got out of hand when the chairman Simon Susman refused to give the group time for questions.

“The agenda has been circulated as due process. I am not taking in any questions,” said Susman.

According to Susman and the group chief executive, Ian Moir, 92 percent of the company’s products were sourced locally and only one-tenth of 1 percent was imported from Israel.

Moir said: “Our trade report that one-tenth of 1 percent is sourced from Israel, products such as figs and pretzels. We are also committed to sourcing 92 percent of our products in South Africa. We source whatever we can get where we can. If we can’t get in SA we will get it elsewhere.”

A priest who attended the meeting appealed to the board from a humanitarian aspect. “In this 16 days of activism, violence against women and children is what happens daily in Palestine while you are talking about profit. Is that (one-tenth of 1 percent) percent worth a child’s life? I find it heartbreaking. It is not ethical to trade with Israel. No child’s life is worth it.”

A woman from Palestine, who was part of the BDS group, told the executives of the hardships Palestinians faced.

“I beg you to go to Palestine and see for yourself. You don’t know what it means to be in Palestine, to have your childhood there. We have no airports, numerous check points and no economy of our own – everything is owned by the Israelis. Before you continue with business and your policies go there and then decide.”

Susman responded to the statements, saying that they were not “belittling” the situation in Israel. “The decision to source any product is not made by the country, but about the product and supply. Government has a treaty with Israel and has not set any sanctions.”

A BDS supporter, Abdur-Razak Johnston, who stood outside the head offices, said the one man picket was “worthy sacrifice”.

He said: “This sacrifice does not compare to what Palestine children are faced with daily.

“Even if I am standing alone here, somewhere in South African others are doing the same thing, standing and fighting against Israel abuse.”