JOHANNNESBURG – Protesters and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement made several attempts to disrupt the opening of the #YallaYebo photography exhibition in South Africa on Thursday night.Several scuffles broke out as the BDS supporters waved flags of the Hezbollah terrorist group covered in red paint, and compared Jews to Nazis, while hurling abuse in an attempt to provoke violence.The Jerusalem Post witnessed first-hand as several protesters called Jews Nazis for attending the event.“You [South African Jews] have done this to yourselves,” on protester said, pointing at several guests waiting to get into the venue. “You can’t look at yourself in the mirror... because you know you’ve turned into a f**king Nazi.”Another protester chanted that Israel was carrying out “the final solution.”One guest told the Post that flying the Hezbollah flag at a Jewish event, “a terrorist organization that wants Jews dead, is as bad as flying the apartheid South African flag in front of me.“If it was me, I wouldn’t be standing here calmly like you are, I’d be getting in their faces and demanding to know what they think they’re doing,” he added. Another visitor said, “Perhaps they feared that the pictures contradicted their lies, and rather showcased both countries in their diversity and beauty.”The entire event is an initiative of the Israeli Embassy and the South African Friends of Israel, which embarked on a joint project with the aim of exploring South Africa and Israel’s diversities and similarities.
Despite attempts by the two-dozen protesters to disrupt, threaten and intimidate guests, more than 100 art enthusiasts, dignitaries, community leaders and media representatives attended.Israeli Ambassador Lior Keinan and Deputy Ambassador Ayellet Black addressed the audience, focusing on the importance of creating a cultural space where people can experience a different side of both countries, enabling a neutral platform for dialogue and engagement. THE EVENT was the culmination of an artist-exchange program which took place in October 2017. The exhibition showcases the beauty, diversity and similarities of South Africa and Israel, through the artist’s eyes and experiences. Two Israeli Instagrammers came to South Africa to photo-document the country’s richly diverse cultures and impressive landscapes, and in turn, two South African Instagrammers went to Israel, mirroring this project. The South African Instagrammers, student-Oscar nominated director Miklas Manneke, and famed photographer Alexi Portokallis – with whom the Post spent time while he was photographing Israel in November – expressed their pride and excitement about their exhibition, and that such a dream had become a reality. They showed the Post some of their favorite shots, which included women at Western Wall and the diverse culture of the Mahaneh Yehuda market.The photographs captured the essence and complexities of both Israel and South Africa.During the event, protesters blocked the entrance and security was forced to stop guests from entering or leaving the art gallery out of concern that the protesters would try storm the venue. As the Post attempted to leave through a back entrance escorted by security, several protesters came to the gate brandishing signs and shouted in an abusive and aggressive manner in an attempt to force the group back inside out of fear. However, the protesters were unsuccessful.In a statement, South African Friends of Israel co-chairman Ben Swartz said, “The event went ahead despite a frantic, last-minute attempt to disrupt it by about two dozen anti-Israel protesters who typically resorted to noisy abuse, intimidation and aggression.”“Flags representing the radical Islamist Hezbollah movement were brandished and curses and insults hurled at patrons wishing to access the venue, including Nazi and racist threats,” he said. “Despite this being an illegal picket, and being politely asked to leave the venue by police and mall security, the mob became confrontational, evidently bent on provoking a violent confrontation.”Swartz added, “Most people, including a number of journalists, were baffled and disgusted at the way a neutral and cultural space such as an art gallery was being targeted, and people made to feel uncomfortable and unsafe by these hooligans.”Swartz encouraged all those who were prevented from entering the venue or couldn’t make it, to visit the exhibition and not be discouraged by gross acts of intimidation.“On the contrary, show your support to the artists for their incredible vision and talent,” he said.