The Editor
The Star
Johannesburg
28th July, 2015

We refer to your article “We were intimidated for going on trip to Israel” (24.07.15)d5d5c485d870d238a23be3f6b9ea6a76

I write to you as member of the Board of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in (BDS South Africa), but I also write to you as veteran of our country’s liberation struggle and as someone who trodded the streets of numerous cities across the globe, pleading with people to boycott Apartheid South Africa in the seventies and eighties.

While your headline writer – employing the usual escape valve of inverted commas – effectively provides the article a veneer of objectivity, in the very first paragraph your reporter betrays her own bias pro-Israeli bias in favour of those who broke ranks with their anti-Israeli Apartheid organizations to go on the recent trip to Israel. She writes “Guilt trips and intimidation have left 16 South African youth leaders shocked after returning from a study tour of Israel”

In a single less than 20-word sentence she accomplishes the feat of making four propaganda pitches for this group. She a) presents as fact allegations of intimidation b) describes the trip as a ‘study tour’ c) wrongly cites the figure 16 for the bunch of ‘victimized’ and d) misleadingly describes all the trippers as ‘national youth leaders’. Every single of these four items we contest.

That the report also provides space for BDS SA response is neither here nor there. The headline and the crucial opening paragraph steers your readers into a direction that your reporter wants to push the reader into a particular way of reading the article. As if this were not enough, the picture of one of these sanctions busting characters – covering nearly as much space as the article itself – has the caption PRO-PEACE.  Your clear message is “The sanctions-busters are peace-loving folk and these BDS and ANC guys are intimidating bullies”.

So for the record:

  1. BDS South Africa categorically denies ever offering money to “buy-out” participants in this Israeli lobby funded tour. It was the organisers of this trip that forced the young South African students to sign a contract stating. “Accepting the invitation to come on this trip, I understand that if I do not show up at the airport for departure [to Israel], I will be responsible to reimburse the South Africa-Israel Forum and South African Union of Jewish Students my full R40 000 (forty-thousand rands) participation cost with [sic] 30 days of 4 July 2015.” The organizers bullied people just in case their consciences put in an appearances before their departure.
  1. BDS SA as an organization has nothing to do with the disciplinary actions that are being taken by the ANC, ANC Youth League, SASCO, SACP, COSAS, YCL and other MDM structures against those who break their organizational resolutions against such visits. The decision to suspend, summon or hold disciplinary hearings for members from within their organizations who defied their organisational policies, positions, resolutions and decisions is the prerogative of those organisations.
  1. Those who went on this trip did receive pleas – private and public – from Palestinian students, civil society and churches urging them not go on these Israeli propaganda junkets. A group of progressive Israelis, critical of Israeli policies, also wrote to them asking them to cancel their trip.

Was this intimidation? Well, as much as attempts to dissuade tourists to apartheid South Africa in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties were regularly dissuaded by us in the liberation struggle to avoid coming to South Africa. We had nothing to hide by discouraging them from coming. The question is what does Israel have to hide by regularly preventing us from entering. If the Israeli lobby is so desperate for visitors why did they deny Minister Blade Nzimande a visa to Palestine?

  1. Sixteen characters went. The statement, which is available online, was signed by 2 of them and nowhere does the statement say that it was issued by the others, yet your story leads the reader to that conclusion. The truth is that some of these characters have suddenly remembered their consciences and refused to sign. Others have approached BDS SA for discussions to see where they have possibly gone wrong, and yet others are calculating that while the holiday was fun, this is not the way to go if one desires a career in politics (Sadly, this kind trip often attracts folks interested in politics as a career, not a calling).
  1. Your reporter described a fully paid Israel propaganda junket as “a study trip”. Did your bother to ask them for an itinerary before doing so?  A cursory glance at the itinerary will show that it was nothing but back-to-back Israeli propaganda with a little Palestinian excotica thrown in to provide it with a veneer of respectability. The only “Palestinian expert” that was engaged by the trip, for example, was the discredited Bassen Eid – someone that the Palestinian Embassy had slammed on his pro-Israeli tour of South Africa a few months back. Rather like, “Let me introduce you to Anne, she is our domestic worker” or “Come and meet this Black City Councillor” in the Apartheid Seventies and then you (Ms Apartheid SA tourist) go back to London or wherever you came from and proclaim how you met “a real black”, how happy these black folks are, how things are not nearly that bad in South Africa and how the Anti-Apartheid Movement are such a bunch of bullies.
  1. About four of these sixteen occupied local (as in specific university structures) leadership positions. Of course they are all South African, but by describing them as “South African youth leaders” you are presenting them as consequential national. At least the Zionist quoted in your piece was slightly more honest and a lot more hopeful – describing them as “potential leaders”.

Newspapers report, at least you are supposed to, not spin

Prof Farid Esack, BDS Board Member