Rush to judge BDS as ‘anti-Semitic’ is naive

When the BDS Coalition of South Africa (BDS) posted a cartoon on its Facebook page recently, it was labeled as anti-Semitic because critics suggested it promoted “ a malevolent and hateful agenda against Jews” writes Iqbal Jassat.

The haste to silence critiques of the apartheid regime of Israel and resort to scurrilous allegations of “anti-Semitism” comes ironically during the week when South Africa remembered the 43rd anniversary of Black Wednesday.

It indeed was a dark day associated with the evil system of apartheid when media freedom took a severe beating. Not only were newspapers outlawed and highly regarded black editors and journalists detained, the apartheid knife sliced through people’s rights to express themselves.

Forty three years later though, while most South African citizens are able to celebrate media freedom post-1994, it appears that a small group of people attached to the last remaining apartheid outpost in the world – Israel, may still be hankering for silencing media voices. The latest Jewish Report hints to it. In an article shockingly titled “Anti-Semitic Clover cartoon is BDS’s sour ‘last gasp”, it attempts to conflate legitimate grievances by workers at Clover as anti-Jewish and thus anti-Semitic.

Reading between the lines to decipher and make sense of the purpose of the article by Tali Feinberg, one gets the distinct idea that it is no less than an attempt to tarnish the SA BDS Coalition as antisemitic. The case against the BDS Coalition, which Incidentally is led by one of South Africa’s celebrated Jewish freedom fighter Ronnie Kasrils and has as affiliates many respected members of the Jewish community, is hopelessly weak and futile.


Indeed any objective reader of the article may in fact find it to be farfetched and a complete stretch of the facts surrounding the cartoon which the author has positioned as the center piece of the report. For instance it says that the BDS Coalition “showed its true colours this week by posting what clearly looks like an anti-Semitic cartoon on its Facebook page.” The keywords used to depict the Coalition as having a malevolent and hateful agenda against Jews are: “showed its true colours”. Yet not surprisingly it remains unsure of its own position as contained in the words “looks like an anti-Semitic cartoon…”, which is in sharp contrast to the heading.

Contradiction and confusion abounds as one delves further into the article.

On the one hand Milton Shain is quoted as confirming that the cartoon is anti-Semitic. And contrary to him, David Saks of the SA Jewish Board does not believe so: “The cartoon itself doesn’t have stereotypical anti-Semitic features…” Yet despite glaring views in opposition to each other, the Jewish Report saw it fit to literally “unmask” the SA BDS Coalition and to reveal its “true colours” as “anti-Semitic”.

What is at play is not difficult to fathom especially for media activists who value freedom of speech. The international BDS movement has grown spectacularly across key regions of the world. Possessing an indisputable moral high ground as did the anti-apartheid movement and inherent in its goals being demands for freedom, liberty and justice for Palestine, it is viewed as a formidable existential threat by the settler colonial regime. And having opposed Clover’s sellout to an Israeli conglomerate which is known to have strong ties with the Occupying power, most of the solidarity movements rallied alongside workers and trade unions.

BDS campaigns directed to isolate Israel by subjecting it to boycotts, divestments and sanctions are in line with international values informed by human rights. To suggest otherwise is a distortion of the truth.

The BDS Coalition is thus correct in claiming that Clover’s majority ownership being Israeli, doesn’t exonerate the company from attacks by the workers’ union GIWUSA. Nor is there any room in the BDS movement for racism, hate, injustice and anti-Semitism.

The rush to judgment by the Jewish Report is thus unwise, unnecessary and badly timed given the memory of Black Wednesday.

*Iqbal Jassat is an Exec Member: Media Review Network, Johannesburg.

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