28 September '15..
South Africa, because of its experience with apartheid, is a feather in the cap of the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. If South Africans think that Israel is an apartheid state, the reasoning goes, we should take them seriously since they know a thing or two about apartheid.
But as I have written before, the boycott movement in South Africa has been particularly ugly; flirting quite openly with violence, anti-Semitism, and conspiracy theorizing.
Evelyn Gordon has written in these pages about the latest embarrassment to BDS-South Africa, a protest against a performance in Cape Town by the singer, Pharrell Williams. Williams’s sole crime is working with Woolworth’s, a retailer that is inexplicably a boycott target, even though, as Haaretz reports, it “has said it does not source produce from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, [that] less than 0.1 percent of its food comes from Israel and that it clearly labels every product’s country of origin.” The movement against Woolworth’s in South Africa has already featured the placement of a severed pig’s head in the kosher food section of one store.
As Gordon points out, the protest of Williams was a huge embarrassment for BDS, which turned out 500 protesters rather than the 40,000 they were aiming for. But that was not for want of trying. Muhammad Desai, Coordinator of BDS-South Africa had this to say to those who have not stuck with the Woolworth’s boycott: “Those who have gone back to Woolworths, we know who you are and where you live.”
This is the same Muhammad Desai who defended protesters who chanted “Shoot the Jew” at a 2013 Wits University protest. The university had dared to allow an Israeli jazz musician to perform. Desai felt the whole thing was “blown out of proportion,” perhaps because no one actually shot a Jew.
Desai is not a marginal figure in the South African boycott movement, and he was a featured speaker at last year’s national conference of Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that leads the effort to boycott Israel on U.S. college campuses.
Nice movement they’ve got there.