Despite all the opportunities offered by Operation Protective Edge in Gaza to harness latent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has come up empty handed. This despite investing huge human and financial capital in this endeavor.
Over the past month BDS activists have initiated a strident call on the South African government to cut diplomatic relations with Israel and to send the Israeli ambassador, Aurthur Lenk, packing. They have harnessed the support of all the usual suspects, like COSATU, NUMSA and the ANC Youth League and even the “venerable” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to rally the masses. They have succeeded in rallying the masses, but to little or no practical effect, other than to allow these strident voices to vent their frustrations, which in fact have nothing to do with Israel or even with the Middle East conflict.
The Palestinian ambassador, Abdel Hafiz Nofal, added his voice to these demands, which failed to gain any traction with those it was targeted at. Last week, both President Jacob Zuma and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa took principled stands, rejecting outright these calls to recall the South African ambassador or to send the Israeli ambassador home.
During the Gaza conflict, at the end of July, during the budget speech, Minister of International Cooperation Maite Nkoane-Mashabane announced that she would send two envoys to Israel and Palestine, led by former deputy minister Azziz Pahad. On their return the envoys delivered a balanced and nuanced rendition of the situation, in which they apportioned blame equally to both sides. Again BDS was left with egg on its face, as it had tried repeatedly to have the notorious “Cape Town Declaration,” which called for sanctions against Israel, adopted in parliament.
BDS has also conducted a relentless boycott campaign against Woolworths. It justifies picking on Woolworths because Woolworths claims to have an ethical approach, which BDS asserts precludes doing business with Israel. Again, only Israel is targeted, not Zimbabwe, or China or Iran, which have dismal human rights records, exposing their thinly veneered agenda to destroy the only state that functions as a democracy in the whole region. The BDS agenda is arrogant and racist, in that Israeli imports serve the very Orthodox sector of the Jewish population and there are no other sources for these products. If business were to succumb to BDS pressure, the floodgates would be opened to have a whole plethora of products boycotted.
Those supporting the BDS boycotts against Woolworths do not fit the profile of shoppers that frequent this chain, which emasculates the power of the boycott.
Thankfully Woolworths has stood its ground and has refused to bow to BDS pressure. To rub salt into the BDS wounds, Woolworths continues to flourish and outperform the retail sector. Other stores that have been targeted, like Dischem, have likewise not caved in to pressure, and have not suffered any adverse effects as a result.
Meanwhile, despite several years of lobbying by BDS to have Israeli products kept out of South Africa, and preventing government officials from visiting Israel, trade between the two countries is flourishing like never before, exceeding R5 billion.
Frankly, BDS is subverting the full development potential of the South African economy, because Israel can offer South Africa solutions to all its most pressing problems.
Israeli companies stand ready to assist with water scarcity and treatment solutions, food supply solutions, youth employment and entrepreneurial solutions and answers to many other medical and security challenges.
Just when it looked like the BDS campaign would achieve a victory, the senate and the vice chancellor at the University of Cape Town, in the last week in August, overturned a resolution which was adopted by a majority of the Students Representative Council to sever links with Israeli universities and to boycott Israeli academics and students.
Archbishop Tutu tried repeatedly to prevail upon a Dutch Presbyterian Investment Fund to withdraw its investments from Israeli companies, and had his call rejected emphatically.
The archbishop leads a hectic life, but finds time to comment on the racial makeup of our national rugby team, finding it a little too white for his liking. His Christian interests seem relegated to the background, as he can’t seem to find the compassion for Christians suffering in Nigeria, the Eastern Congo, South Sudan and of course the Middle East, that he feels for the Palestinians.
Whenever BDS has initiated an action it has engendered a counter-response that has more than canceled out any gain it hoped to attain. Before the elections, it launched a billboard campaign on the highways that met with a response which negated the BDS claims as lies. When it brought thousands of supporters on to the streets, calling for “death to Israel” it was countered by thousands who came out in Johannesburg and Cape Town in support and solidarity with Israel. If anything, the pro-Israel rallies tapped into a rich vein of Christian support, which now that it has been activated will become more vocal and united in the future.
When BDS paid for a half-page advertisement in The Sunday Times, the largest nationally distributed newspaper in South Africa, the Christians responded with a full-color, full-page advertisement expressing wholehearted support for Israel.
All that the BDS campaign has produced as a result of its negative and hateful message is a crop of anti-Semitic statements emanating from the likes of Tony Ehrenreich, Cape leader of COSATU, which have had a very detrimental effect on intergroup relations and which will result in long and expensive litigation. The BDS organized the event at Wits University where the “shoot the Jew” song was sung, which has forever cast the BDS as an anti-Semitic movement, particularly as they tried to justify themselves after the event. Its racist and divisive policies have lost it many adherents.
The reason for its abject failure is that it is offers no solutions, other than its stated objective to destroy a sovereign state, one which contributes more to the world than any other its size. Its bias aimed at slandering only one state, Israel, is so blatant that its message is cheapened. While it purports to care and speak out for the Palestinians, its failure to apportion blame elsewhere than Israel undermines its authenticity. It has, for example, said nothing when Palestinians are bombed and killed in Lebanon or in Syria. It is silent about the plight of Palestinian Christians, who suffer terrible discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza.
It is speechless about the plight of Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even under the control of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza.
Its inversion of the truth, by trying to label and associate Israel with crimes against humanity such as apartheid, ring hollow, largely because they are completely untrue and unfounded but also because Arab states are the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses. They are completely silent and ignore the widespread human rights crimes committed in the name of Islam, such as mass beheadings, systematic rape of women who are considered to be “infidels,” honor killings of women, millions of young girls forced to marry older men, and the institutionalized slavery of guest workers. Precisely because of their utter silence and failure to condemn all of these crimes, they are morally bankrupt, corrupt and unprincipled.
The author is national vice chairman of the South Africa Zionist Federation.