ISRAELI CARROT BAN: Another chapter in a long standing tradition of protest

SuperValu’s decision not to sell Israeli carrots evokes memories of the Dunnes Stores strike relating to apartheid from 30 years ago, writes Ryle Dwyer

ISRAELI CARROT BAN: Another chapter in a long standing tradition of protest

WHILE SuperValu has ordered all of its stores to remove Israeli carrots from their shelves, the company insists that it is not enforcing a boycott on the sale of Israeli goods, as it is apparently prepared to sell other products from Israel.

It is simply refusing to sell the Chantenay carrots.

“Ultimately, consumers will make their own purchasing decisions,” the supermarket management contended.

“We understand that this is an emotive issue,” the company insisted. “However, we have a policy of not taking a position on international affairs.”

However, despite the company’s insistence that it is effectively neutral in terms of international affairs, some have viewed the carrot issue as a token gesture of disapproval at what Israel has been doing in Gaza.

Of course, this is not to suggest that people do not think that Israel has a right to defend itself.

Hamas has clearly been waging an outrageous campaign, firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel. Moreover, it would seem that it has been using hospitals and schools as cover for their nefarious activities, content in the knowledge that, in retaliating, the Israelis would inevitably hit those schools and the hospitals and thereby kill or wound most vulnerable people.

In effect, Hamas has been using the most vulnerable Palestinians as hostages. Under international law, Israel is entitled to strike back when attacked, but the retaliation should be in proportion to the damage caused. No one could claim that the actual response has been proportionate.

The Palestinian health ministry reported that 1,875 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, including 430 children. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza at the same time, and three civilians in Israel.

Last week, the Mandate trade union wrote to more than 20 retailers in this country calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and produce in retaliation against the Israeli campaign in Gaza.

SuperValu’s action evokes memories of the Dunnes Stores strike, which began 30 years ago, on July 19, 1984.

There were, of course, very significant differences. Thirty years ago, Mary Manning, a young women at a checkout desk, explained to a customer that she would not handle two South African grapefruits in protest against that country’s apartheid policy.

The customer readily accepted the situation, but a member of management took exception. Ms Manning and her union shop steward, Karen Gearon, were summoned upstairs and given five minutes to back down. Both independently refused to capitulate, and they were suspended, and this led to the strike. Eight other workers from the Henry St store joined the strike, which continued for almost three years, until April 1987.

THEY had set out on a particularly lonely road, initially without even tacit support from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Only one other worker from any of the Dunnes stores joined them — Brendan Barron from the store in Crumlin. However, gradually public support began to grow.

In December, they were invited to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu during his stopover in London on his way to collect the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. The archbishop subsequently invited the 11 strikers to visit South Africa in order to witness apartheid in operation.

Upon arrival in Johannesburg they were held for eight hours and then put back on the same aircraft and returned to London. This generated more publicity than they would have received if they had been admitted.

The strikers began to pick up support from politicians and church figures. Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway came out strongly in support of the strike. Other prominent religious followed suit, including the Conference of Major Religious Superiors, the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, the Dublin Council of Churches, along with international support from the United Nations, Senator Edward Kennedy, and the Irish-American Labour Coalition.

On the second anniversary of the strike, Archbishop Tutu issued a statement of support for the strikers. “My admiration for them has increased several-fold,” he said. “Remembering their perseverance gives us renewed faith in humankind. In these difficult days, their stand is a beacon of hope for South Africa.”

The Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement had existed for 20 years without achieving much real public support. It had organised a protest outside Lansdowne Road against the South African rugby team in 1970, but it was the Dunnes strike that inspired assertive activism against apartheid.

Under public pressure, the government phased in a ban on the importation of fruit and vegetable from South Africa in 1986. After being freed from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela met with several of the Dunnes strikers and praised their valuable help.

By their actions, they demonstrated that a comparatively few determined people, with the courage of their convictions, can make a huge difference in supporting a righteous cause.

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