An anti-Israel rally at a South African University that saw protesters chanting “Shoot the Jew,” which was subsequently defended by the head of the country’s BDS movement, drew widespread condemnation.
Both backers and critics of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in South Africa criticized the group’s leader for supporting activists at the Witwatersrand University rally who sang a modified version of the 1980s anti-apartheid song “Shoot the Boer,” the Mail and Guardian reported Monday.
Some members of the BDS movement, which supports a boycott of Israeli products as part of its pro-Palestinian stance, “made it clear they don’t think it’s a remotely acceptable slogan,” Prof. Steven Friedman, who teaches at both Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg — and who supports the boycott idea, in addition to calling for a one-state solution — told the news site.
“It is very important that those of us who support the boycott make it clear it’s about the denial of rights and the denial of self-expression and self-government for the Palestinian people. It’s not targeted at a particular ethnic group,” Friedman said.
But the head of the group, Mohammed Desai, said the chant and the idea of anti-Semitism were “blown out of proportion.”
“Just like you would say ‘Kill the Boer’ at a funeral during the 80s… it wasn’t about killing white people; it was used as a way of identifying with the apartheid regime,” he told the student newspaper Wits Vuvuzela.
On Monday, the group issued a statement calling the chant racism, but made no mention of Desai’s comment.
“We unequivocally distance ourselves from the singing of this song and its sentiments. Also, to tarnish all Jews with the Zionist brush is racism, regardless of who does it. Racism is racism… and racism is abominable,” said Prof. Farid Esack — a Muslim scholar active in the BDS movement — in a statement issued by Desai.
The BDS protests had been held outside the university’s Great Hall after failed attempts to cancel the performance of Israeli jazz artist Daniel Zamir and his quartet.
Soon after the event two activists, Nathan Geffen and Doron Isaacs, wrote that they “were dismayed to read that Muhammed Desai, coordinator of BDS South Africa, justified this behavior.”
The two activists said that they supported the cause of “Palestinian freedom, equality and justice,” but that “Anti-Semitism, besides being personally insulting to us, scores an own-goal. It undermines the struggle for Palestinian freedom.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, an umbrella organization meant to represent the interests of South African Jews, was quick to denounce the BDS chants.
The Board’s chief, Mary Kluk, said in a statement that, in defending the chants, the group had “revealed its true colors.
“What this incident unmistakably shows is that BDS SA’s real agenda is not to stand up for the Palestinian cause, but to incite hatred, and possibly even violence, against Jewish South Africans.”
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