South Africans are tired of BDS bullying

Wendy Kahn says the organisation's antics do nothing either to improve the lives of the Palestinians, or to advance peace with Israel

“Yawn” was the comment posted by a reader of the Eye Witness News tweet, “#PharrellProtest BDS is campaigning against the retailer’s importing of Israeli products.” Aside from the incessant barrage of tweets and Facebook posts by BDS, that seems to be the general South African reaction. 

People are gatvol with being intimidated and threatened for not obediently following BDS’ instructions on where to shop and what concerts they they are allowed to attend. While BDS’s right to protest and to not attend the Pharrell Williams Concert on Monday night should be respected, we likewise expect them to respect our constitutional right to hear the magic of Pharrell. 

The City of Cape Town is now being subjected to the same threats that Jewish South Africans, and indeed all constitution-loving South African citizens, have experienced at BDS’ hands for some time now. Here are a few pointers that we would like to share with its leadership:

For a start, BDS are not concerned with Palestinian Solidarity. They are not interested in creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel - the ‘two state solution’ supported by our government, and the majority of South Africans, including SA Jewry. Their objective, rather, is Israel’s destruction, and this vitriolic hatred has recurrently been directed against Jewish fellow South Africans. The justification by their National Coordinator of BDS protesters chanting `Shoot the Jew’ is just one in a long string of vehemently antisemitic outcomes of BDS campaigns. 

BDS’ righteous indignation’ against anyone standing in the way of their grandstanding is something we see time and time again. Their press conferences routinely denounce anyone who doesn’t support their ‘noble’ campaign, be it the City of Cape Town, the universities, the stores they are boycotting or, all too often, the Jewish community.

They assume that they have a right to conduct their campaign according to their handbook (BDS101) and if anyone has the gall to question that – raising such issues as public safety, city regulations or even the notion that South Africans are entitled to attend a concert of their choosing – they are labelled as anti-Palestinian and, in Williams’ case, threatened with “the largest protest any artist has faced in South Africa since the dawn of democracy".

“The largest protest in the history of democracy”? I’d urge the City of Cape Town not to hide under the mountain. After all, in March BDS threatened SA Jewry that if they didn’t accede to their edict to cancel the Zionist Federation Conference they would “Shut down Sandton” and ensure that “no Zionist conference will be held on our soil”. In the end, the promised thousands of indignant protesters that were to wreak havoc instead turned out to be a pitiful 150 or so ‘rent a crowd’ activists bused in from Orange Farm.

Indeed, the Star newspaper interviewed one such “protestor”, who stated: “I can’t say I know why I’m here. They called me (the 51 year old mother of three from Orange Farm) late yesterday to say that there was an event in Sandton and buses were available. They said we can go because the buses were available. I don’t know why we are here, who we are supporting and against who.” 

On a more serious note, however, some of those participating did indeed become extremely hostile, with shouts of “Voetsak! You think that this is Israel - we will kill you” being directed at participants It is surely this kind of rhetoric, which finds its way into all BDS protests, that should not be allowed on our streets. 

The City of Cape Town should be aware that BDS claims that their protests are peaceful could not be further from the truth. As its Woolworths boycott campaign has shown, it has had no compunction about resorting to intimidation, harassment, insults and threats in order to bully Woolworths patrons and employees, and the public at large, into acquiescing to its agenda. 

In the end, this led to Woolworths asking for, and being granted, a court order prohibiting BDS from “organizing, coordinating or encouraging harassment, intimidation and/or the causing of psychological harm of Woolworths employees or customers, or engaging in any form of protest action inside Woolworths stores”.

As part of BDS’s so called peaceful Woolworths campaign in March this year dozens of youths ran amok in a Woolworths store in Pretoria, stealing goods collectively worth R200 000 whilst shouting such slogans as “Israel is the devil” and depositing BDS leaflets and posters at the scene. And who can forget the notorious Porkgate incident, when BDS activists deposited the head of a pig in what was thought to be the kosher meat section of a Woolworths store in Sea Point Store?

Whatever its claims to the contrary, BDS’ antics do nothing either to improve the lives of the Palestinians, or to advance peace between them and their Israeli neighbors. Rather, all they have done is polarize South Africans and generate destructive confrontations.

Writing in the 14 August issue the Daily Maverick, Daily Vox Executive Editor Azad Essa pretty much summed things up when he described the South African chapter of the global BDS movement as being “little more than a joke” and its campaign against Woolworths as “little more than a shouting match that absolves the prickly conscience of their supporters”.

Wendy Kahn is National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies