The South African human rights and Palestine solidarity organization, BDS South Africa, understandably (but nevertheless reprehensibly) constantly faces all sorts of baseless allegations from the pro-Israeli lobby. We deem it beneath our dignity to respond to these. At other times, the relative effective deployment of these lies, compel us to restate our principles and responses to particular events for the record.
In the past a letter was circulated in South Africa by one front organization of the Israeli lobby, initially sent to a number of South African government officials, including to Mayor Parks Tau of the City of Johannesburg protesting against the twinning of Johannesburg with Ramallah (www.politicsweb.co.za/news-and-analysis/why-is-parks-tau-partnering-with-bds-sa–sajbd-gau). The same letter was recycled and used in France by the Israeli lobby to ban Professor Farid Esack, a member of the management committee of BDS South Africa, from speaking there.
BDS South Africa regrets news of any genuine incidents of anti-Semitism and supports complainants in their quest for justice through our law enforcement institutions. As an organization that supports the struggle for justice for Palestinians, BDS South Africa strongly condemns such actions and is extremely sensitive to conduct that is discriminatory or tantamount to hate speech and takes genuine allegations of anti-Semitism seriously. As South Africans we are proud of our constitutional values and are determined to struggle against all forms of discrimination including sexism, racism, and discrimination based on religious identity and ethnicity.
BDS South Africa hosts Holocaust Remembrance Day
BDS South Africa furthermore maintains that all forms of discrimination are related and that it is morally dubious, and even downright hypocritical to oppose one form of discrimination and support another. In this spirit BDS South Africa held an International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Constitutional Hill commemorating the courage and struggle of Jews in Europe and remembering the immoral, evil, inhumane and violent attack on Jewish lives and property together with other marginalized groups during the Second World War (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9KKlrsVo-4). Professors Steven Friedman and Farid Esack of the University of Johannesburg, Abdul Kayum Ahmed, the former Chief Executive Officer of the South African Human Rights Commission, Janet Love and Yasmin Sooka, the Head of the Foundation of Human Rights, spoke at the commemoration and remembrance event. In the struggle for justice for Palestinians we cannot forget or ignore the tremendous pain and suffering of Jews during this period. We will not allow Zionist manipulation of that catastrophe to blind us or make us indifferent to the enormous suffering inflicted on the Jews by a section of European society.
The international BDS movement is firmly opposed to racism and bigotry. In a statement signed by more than one hundred Palestinian intellectuals and activists the following is affirmed (see: http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/struggle-palestinian-rights-incompatible-any-form-racism-or-bigotry-statement):
The struggle for our inalienable rights is one opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and other forms of bigotry directed at anyone, and, in particular, people of color and indigenous peoples everywhere.
False Allegations against BDS South Africa
In the past allegations have been made (primarily by the pro-Israel lobby organization the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD)) against BDS South Africa that we are guilty of anti-Semitic conduct. Such allegations are completely untrue and are a misrepresentation of BDS South Africa and its values. In an open letter to Mayor Tau, the SAJBD accuses BDS South Africa campaigns of anti-Semitism. In this regard, the SAJBD lists five instances where BDS South Africa was responsible for creating a climate of hate.
The first instance refers to certain protestors singing the song Dubula e’Juda (subsequently but wrongly translated as ‘shoot the Jew’) at a BDS South Africa organized protest against Wits hosting an Israeli-funded musician. The singing of the song was never justified by BDS South Africa and the management committee of BDS South Africa issued a strong statement condemning the singing of the old struggle song and furthermore condemning any and all incitement to violence and racism – including anti-Semitism – even if it were to come from within the ranks of BDS supporters (see: http://ymlp.com/z1zeWS).
The second instance refers to the allegation that during the annual Israeli Apartheid Week campaign (which is endorsed by BDS South Africa and over 80 other South African organisations) there was an incident where Jewish students on university campuses were verbally abused allegedly called ‘f***ing Jews’ and ‘f***ing Kikes’. There is no evidence supporting the claim that there is any connection between BDS South Africa and the abuse of Jewish students whatsoever. BDS South Africa does not condone any form of abuse and encourages any student who was verbally abused to report the incident to the relevant authorities.
The third instance refers to the BDS campaign (called for by various organisations including the NC4P) against Woolworths in respect of which a head of a pig was allegedly placed on a kosher food shelf. For the record, the pig’s head was placed by members of COSAS (not BDS South Africa) on a halal shelf (not a kosher shelf) in a Woolworths store. BDS South Africa explicitly disassociated itself from this conduct and clearly stated that such forms of protest are not supported, endorsed or encouraged (see: http://ymlp.com/zRzi3c).
The fourth instance refers to BDS South Africa hosting Palestinian struggle stalwart Leila Khaled on the DUT campus which allegedly resulted in calls for Jewish students to be deregistered from the university. It is extremely important to note that there is no connection whatsoever between Leila Khaled’s speaking engagement and the DUT’s Student Representative Council’s subsequent call for the expulsion of any Jewish student being funded by Israel. The statement calling for expulsion was released prior to the hosting of Leila Khaled, not after. Furthermore, the SRC issued a clarification statement apologising for any offense and clarified that the call (by the SRC) was for those funded by Israel (not those that are Jewish) to be expelled (see: http://www.politicsweb.co.za/party/we-apologise-to-those-offended-by-our-jewish-stude). As BDS South Africa we have no apology for hosting Leila Khaled in South Africa who has a firm position against anti-Semitism and racism. Khaled is celebrated by the people of South Africa and was most recently welcomed to the country by none other than the Minister of Home Affairs (despite calls by the SAJBD for her to be denied a visa). Leila Khaled also shared several platforms with senior cabinet Ministers, government officials and anti-apartheid stalwarts. On a previous visit she was welcomed by no less than President Nelson Mandela.
The fifth instance refers to a march in Sandton organised by BDS South Africa and other organizations against an Israeli trade exhibition hosted by the South African Zionist Federation on the 8 March 2015. It is alleged that calls were made to exterminate Jews including such comments as “You Jews do not belong in SA” and “You think this is Israel, we are going to kill you”. It is important to note that BDS South Africa is not accountable for the statements of individuals, especially when these emanate from non-members and not within hearing distance of our officials or members. While some of the statements in the video clip distributed by the SAJBD may be considered aggressive and distasteful, at no time is it ever said that Jews do not belong in South Africa or that Jews should be attacked. At most a lone voice states that “You think this is Israel, we will kill you”. It is unclear who made this statement and from which side of the protest line this statement was made. Nonetheless, BDS South Africa rejects all forms of violence and is committed to non-violent protest action.
The callous use of the charge of anti-Semitism by the SAJBD and others is unacceptable and irresponsible. The malicious and manipulative nature of such unfounded allegations is evident since there is no basis to come to the conclusion that BDS South Africa or the global BDS movement are guilty of anti-Semitism – if any of the accusations were true it should have been lodged with the relevant authorities. This flagrant and inaccurate branding of the BDS movement and certain individuals as anti-Semitic is deplorable, offensive, reckless and does a disservice to the real victims of anti-Semitism.
Attack on BDS SA Board and Staff members
Finally, in 2015, Professor Farid Esack, from the University of Johannesburg, an eminent scholar and academic who is known for his anti-apartheid activism, work on inter-religious dialogue, and his appointment as a gender-equality commissioner by the late Nelson Mandela was banned from speaking as part of Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Sorbonne-Paris 1 and by the city of Toulouse on the false basis that he is anti-Semitic (an accusation made by the SAJBD and other pro-Israeli organizations). This allegation is blatantly false. Professor Esack has in all his written work and speeches displayed a remarkable principled commitment to justice and the struggle against all forms of racism – including anti-Semitism, sexism, economic exploitation and homophobia. In an article titled “The Dangers of Ignoring the Holocaust Lessons” Professor Esack clearly speaks out against discrimination, particularly anti-Semitism. He says quite emphatically that “[i]f the Jews disappear, then so will all of us; an injury to one is an injury to all” (see: http://www.iol.co.za/dailynews/opinion/the-dangers-of-ignoring-the-holocaust-lessons-1.1460188#.VRP9eGccSM9).
To use the charge of anti-Semitism to avoid criticism of Israel’s inhumane and colonial policies, its occupation of Palestinian land and the oppression of Palestinians, is inaccurate, morally repugnant and is a disservice to the struggle against oppression and discrimination including anti-Semitism.