29 November 2023

The sooner Clover decides to shun an Israeli buyout, the better for South Africa’s integrity whose economy has a moral price, writes Iqbal Jassat. 

What is it about Clover Dairy’s proposed sellout to Israel’s Central Bottling Company (CBC) that has everyone up in arms? 

What makes this potential deal different to others – after all, foreign direct investment (FDI) into South Africa’s economy is a popular mantra sung by President Ramaphosa?

Why have Palestinian Solidarity Movements taken umbrage and expressed dismay at the takeover?

Groups like Media Review Network (MRN) and the South African arm of Palestinian-led global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS-SA, have weighed in on Clover’s likely sellout. 

The MRN kicked off a public awareness campaign by addressing an open letter of protest to Clover and its shareholders. And BDS-SA issued a statement warning that unless the deal is cancelled, it would “actively initiate, support and/or join the call for direct action and a militant but peaceful campaign.”

It added that the campaign will include protests and disruptions against Clover and a boycott of all its products.

At the time of writing, I’ve learned from reliable sources that food and allied workers unions within COSATU are flexing their muscles to prevent the deal from proceeding. 

What is it about? 

And why would leading academic and political analyst Steven Friedman claim that if the sale goes through, “it will create the ground for something I have been advocating for quite a while – a concerted consumer boycott.”

 “This is ideal – it is very easy for people to show solidarity by buying their dairy products from another supplier and so this could become a very popular boycott campaign. Obviously, it is better to stop it happening but all is not lost if that fails.”

In a matter of hours following MRN’s missive, a huge uproar erupted on social media over revelations that Brimstone, a South African BEE investment company listed on the JSE, was an integral part of the Tel Aviv-based CBC consortium. 

Overnight, either in an attempt to stem the tide of anger against it being in bed with an Israeli company or to earnestly seek an exit strategy, Brimstone issued a statement. It declared its intention to immediately review its participation in the proposed purchase having taken note of widespread outrage. 

Unfortunately for Brimstone, its review decision did not quell public outrage. Instead, CEO Mustaq Brey and fellow directors have been taking nasty poundings on social media. Angry questions about how a progressive BEE firm could betray social justice issues abound. 

A fundamental issue facing Brimstone is the demand about why its due diligence did not include scrutiny of CBC’s role within Israel’s apartheid regime. In other words, besides the so-called expertise CBC may possess in hi-tech, the financial strength and reach across the world, what matters is that it benefited and continues to do so by profiting from Israel’s Occupation of Palestine.

If the core of South Africa’s foreign policy is guided by a commitment to human rights, international conventions and abhorrence of apartheid racism, why have Clover and Brimstone turned a blind eye to these considerations?

Rudimentary research on CBC reveals it to be complicit in Israel’s settlement enterprise. According to “Who Profits”, CBC holds a regional distribution center in the Atarot settlement. As the owner of Tara (Milko Industries), a subsidiary, Meshek Zuriel Dairy (81%) holds a dairy farm in the settlement of Shadmot Mehola in the Jordan Valley. 

It’s owned by the heirs of Moshe Wertheim whose association with the dispossession of Palestine goes back to the period of ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population when he fought in the Palmach terror-militia. 

Wertheim, who died in 2016 at the age of 86, was also a Mossad agent. He formed the CBC in 1967 when Israel occupied the remaining 22 percent of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in addition to Syria’s Golan Heights. 

Given his role in Israel’s military, intelligence and economy – all at the expense of Palestinian freedom, it is no wonder that war criminal Netanyahu eulogized Wertheim as the “salt of the earth” with whom he had “a special, warm relationship”.

CBC being thus associated with Wertheim’s Palmach and Mossad legacy, should be shunned by Clover’s shareholders and companies like Brimstone, whose due diligence clearly lacks compliance with its “values driven identity”. 

Given the scandal Brimstone finds itself in, being in bed with an Israeli conglomerate that built its fortunes trading in alcohol, one wonders how its executive chairman Fred Robinson will reconcile the CBC deal with his long-held views: “It has not always been just about profit, but also a belief that we have to contribute to the betterment of society while doing business. That has been important to us and I think for a long time people didn’t recognise that. You know we aren’t invested in gambling or liquor, and people have asked ‘why’, and Mustaq shares my view that we want to invest for good.”

Seven decades later, Palestinians are still reeling from the Naqba (catastrophe) visited upon them by terror outfits Palmach. They remain Occupied and under military siege. None of their suffering can be exploited as a “good investment”, nor can Brimstone’s partnership with CBC be to the “betterment of (Palestinian) society”.

The Clover sellout to Apartheid Israel’s CBC can thus not be condoned. The sooner its shareholders make a firm decision to turn down the buyout, the better for South Africa’s integrity as a country whose economy has a moral price. 

Iqbal Jassat is an executive member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg.

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