Azhar Vadi – Cii News – July 17, 2012
A spokesperson for the date producing Karsten Farms has strongly denied that any of the dates sold in South Africa by them are produced in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Peter Karsten agreed to speak to Cii’s Sabahul Khair programme after an online and social media campaign went viral in South Africa again this year following boycott calls by Palestinian activists in other parts of the world.
The farm in question is located in the Northern Cape province of South Africa with extensions in the Western Cape and produces a variety of fruits, including grapes, berries and Medjoul dates.
“We are a farming company not a marketing company. We produce South African dates and we sell it to the local market. I am not aware of any [Israeli] dates coming in to this country [South Africa]. We do not buy to sell. We produce to sell. So definitely, not one of our dates that our customers in South Africa eats is of Israeli origin.”
International Palestinian activists believe that the farmers in South Africa sell their dates to a company called Hadiklaim Israeli Date Growers Cooperative. They then resell the produce to various retailers around the world. The Israeli company therefore earns huge profits based on produce obtained in South Africa. They have called on people and Muslims in particular to refrain from buying dates from the company despite the origin of the dates being South Africa in the case of the Kalahari Medjoul.
The date is amongst a list of products that have been sold to countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, the US and Australia by Hadiklaim. According to the company website they have not sold any dates to Africa.
Who owns Karsten Farm
Karsten Farm is 90% owned by the Karsten family and 10% belongs to the Industrial Development Cooperation of South Africa (IDC). The IDC is a national development finance institution set up to promote economic growth and industrial development. It is owned by the South African government under the supervision of the Economic Development ministry.”
Peter Karsten labeled as rumour information spread that they were importing dates from Israel and selling them in South Africa.
“What is true is that we sold [dates] to an Israeli company called Hadiklaim, like we have sold to many other countries around the globe. So it’s a purely commercial decision to sell for the best price.”
The Muslim Judicial Council SA (MJC) also issued a statement previously confirming Karsten Farms dates as South African grown, harvested and packaged.
They however urged community to heed the call to boycott Israeli dates which is supplied to the South African market.
“During this call we highlighted certain names which are associated with dates sourced from Israel such as King Solomons Dates, Jordan Valley and those from the West Bank,” said their statement.
Corporate Watch, a group tracking corporate complicity in the occupation of Palestine however contacted Michael Deas, the European coordinator of the Palestinian BDS Boycott National Committee when the issue serviced several years ago. Their site noted, “Hadiklaim buys Karsten’s dates to facilitate an all year-round supply to the export market; South African dates are harvested in March and April, six months later than in Israel. Hadiklaim’s business with Karsten Farms helps the settler company to operate as an international exporter. So in selling produce to Hadiklaim, Karsten are supporting Hadiklaim’s dealing with settlement growers, their growers’ use of cut price Palestinian labour and colonised land, and are disregarding the popular call from a broad section of Palestinian civil society – the dispossessed people of Palestine living under occupation, apartheid or in diaspora. As such Karsten Farm’s products should be boycotted.”
No smuggled Israeli dates in SA
Peter vehemently denied smuggling in Israeli dates and repackaging them as South African produce. “According to national law, no retailer or supplier is allowed to do it [label incorrectly]. You can go to jail for doing that because you are obviously misleading your customer base.”
Hadiklaim had previously noted on their website that they also had growers in South Africa and Namibia that were particularly suited to growing high quality dates, including Karsten Farms that grow the Medjoul. These statements have since been removed from the Hadiklaim website.
“I asked them to remove that statement,” said Peter. “The fact of the matter is that our dates are counter–season to all other dates produced in Israel or Jordan or America or elsewhere.”
South Africa’s geographical location in the Southern hemisphere results in summer falling during the December to March period as opposed to the cooler weather in the north at the same time.
“So everyone wants to claim that they have access to these dates because it opens marketing doors to them during the rest of the season. And that is why they [Hadiklaim] made the claim as they did. But it is not correct and that is why we had them remove it,” explained Peter.
Karsten Farms also denied that they are engaged in the importation of dates during high demand and short supply periods. With the huge consumption of dates during the Ramadhaan period by Muslims, there is the risk of supplies running out. Peter said, “We are not importing any dates. We did import six years ago from Jordan and that was a total disaster. So if we run short of dates, unfortunately we are out of it.”
Asked about whether he would reconsider doing business with an Israeli company based on the current political situation between Palestine and Israel, Peter said, “It’s not a light issue. I have sleepless nights about it. I have met with the Jamiatul Ulama [Council of Muslim Theologians] and PSA [Palestinian Solidarity Alliance] in Johannesburg. I explained my situation and asked for some advice. There was some difference of opinion but everybody said it’s a commercial decision and nobody can really say anything about it so long as it’s the best commercial option.”
“That’s the advice I got,” added Peter. “Whether or not that has changed in the last few years is another story. Yes, I’m looking for alternatives but it’s not easy in the commercial world because everybody says they want to buy the dates but not everybody is willing to pay the price. In the end of the day I am responsible for 5000 to 6000 South Africans employed in our total company. And although it’s [the dates] not a major part of our business, it is a key part.”Tags: BDS, Boycott, Israel, Jamiatul Ulama, Karsten Farms, Medjoul Dates, MJC, Palestine, PSA