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Pop-up protesters thwarted in anti-Israel action

  • Protest3
A motley crew of pop-up activists attempted to vandalise the shop front of a Rosebank gallery at the weekend to protest an exhibition showcasing Israeli and South African photographers’ work. Their attempt was quickly thwarted, and it became clear they had scant knowledge of their cause.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jun 07, 2018

Early last Sunday evening, three young people dressed in black arrived at the FotoZA Gallery in the Rosebank Mall and frantically plastered childish paintings of what appeared to be an artist’s impression of the old South African flag with reproductions of the Israeli and Palestinian flags on the glass windows of the gallery.

No sooner were the posters put up, the trio were caught red handed by mall security guards, who called the police.

After a brief interrogation, the police handed them back to mall security, who questioned them further before giving them a stern warning never to attempt such a trick again.

The Johannesburg-based trio, namely Kelly-Jean Gilbert, July Eccles, and Tiego Khoza were only slightly rattled by the experience. That didn’t stop them requesting images from the SA Jewish Report to post on social media.

When asked why they were staging a protest, they chanted a string of anti-Israel, pro-Palestine slogans with arms raised and fists pumped.

This group is typical of today’s social justice warriors (SJW), said Benji Shulman of Friends of Israel.

“SJW refers to a phenomenon of people who see themselves as morally important, and who feel the need to go out there and do something. They can adopt a range of issues like gender or race-related issues, often with very little knowledge about the topic,” he said.

At last Thursday’s opening of the exhibition, titled #YallaYebo, a disparate mob of menacing protesters with Hezbollah flags painted with splotches of red paint disrupted the opening, causing many patrons to be turned away.

Social commentator and futurist, Daniel Silke, the Director of the Political Futures Consultancy, believes the Israel-Palestinian conflict is “the flavour of the month”. “In years past, it was Green Peace or some other issue,” he said.

“It is in vogue to use the issue to gain activist credentials,” he said, mainly because of heightened awareness of the issue in South Africa.

“The successful penetration of BDS in public discourse in South Africa and awareness of the issue makes activism a useful conduit for those seeking to establish their names in the political or civil arena. Protesters’ knowledge might be factually incorrect, but it is a useful platform for budding activists to gain credentials.”

Former BDS activist, Klaas Mokgomole, who now works for an organisation called Africans For Peace, said it was common for groups of friends to stick together for a cause they know little about. “It’s like a rent a crowd. Let’s go protest! You give them a piece of paper to read and they understand your cause without asking questions, and because you’re a so called friend, they support the cause.”

“People love jumping on the bandwagon and chanting slogans without understanding what they are talking about. I know, I’ve been there. As a well-known student activist on campus, I’ve blown a vuvuzela and held placards and chanted anti-Israel slogans.”

Mokgomole spent months exploring the subject and visiting Israel before he realised that the BDS and its allies “were doing nothing to come up with meaningful solutions or helping in any way”.

Ramon Cabanacco, a lawyer and the co-host of the Renegade Report, a weekly podcast on CliffCentral that seeks to undermine narratives using evidence, facts and statistics, said: “The BDS movement has no real power in the world. It likes to cause a fuss to make news irrespective of how small the victory is. Most of the time, people are ignorant. When the goal is to make the news and not solve the problem, there’s no incentive to understand what’s going on. Making the news is easy, solving the problems is hard.”

His colleague on the Renegade Report, Dr Jonathan Witt, said, “This is not a South African phenomenon. It is a syndrome of identity politics and outrage culture, which now allows anyone who views themselves as a victim to take up a cause regardless of whether they have any connection to it or without having an understanding of the facts of the matter. A whole bunch of people will protest who don’t have a clue what they’re protesting about.”

Terence Corrigan, Project Manager at the Institute for Race Relations, agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become a cause celebre amongst various social groupings.

“South Africans tend to assess the rest of the world through the prism of their own experiences, and that is why the Israel apartheid narrative finds resonance, in the same way that Black Lives Matter does in America. There is a misidentification of South African history with that of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“Because of the uniqueness of our national experience, and because of the closeness we have to our recent past, we have a sense that this is our defining reality. It produces a sense of parochialism, a limited or narrow outlook.”

He said an effective, worldwide campaign had attracted the world’s attention to the issue at the exclusion of other pressing issues.

“No other conflict in the world gets nearly the same attention. Being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel has become a sort of litmus test of your social acceptance in certain quarters, and [it is risky for a person to] come out with a differing view.”

When asked what Hamas stood for, Sunday night protester Eccles, 32, who works in advertising, said, “Hamas is a political party and organisation in Palestine that goes around building things like schools.” She said that she had heard that Hamas was “propped up by America and Israel, which gave it money”. She said there were “many policies and laws in Israel that discriminate against Arabs and Palestinians in Israel”.

Her Facebook page shows numerous pro-Palestinian articles and articles by leftwing fringe group, Jewish Voice for Peace. She did express a willingness to engage in open dialogue on the subject.

Her protest partner, Kelly-Jean Gilbert, said they were “apolitical” and did not belong to any particular organisation.

”We are independent activists,” she said proudly. “We are individuals operating on our own steam. We are activists in bridging racial divides in the country. She concluded by saying, “A person can be pro-Palestine without being anti-Semitic. I know Jewish people who feel this way.”

The third member of the group, Tiego Khoza, a politics and journalism student at the University of Johannesburg, said with pride: “I am an activist. I cannot tolerate injustice.”

He was added to a WhatsApp group which in his mind showed solidarity to the Palestinian cause, and he felt obliged to participate in the activities of the group.

“Yasser Arafat sided with our liberation struggle, and so it makes sense to help the Palestinians in their time of need.”

He dropped words like the Ottoman Empire, the Balfour Declaration, and the two-state solution, but said he did not know that Hamas was an internationally recognised terrorist organisation, admitting “I have to find out my facts about Hamas.”

3 Comments

  1. 3 Julia Eccles 11 Jun
    Thanks for the coverage! We appreciate it. May your readership enjoy this brilliant piece of writing. 

    We still want our photos! ;) 

  2. 2 Sesaphi Luphondo 11 Jun
    I am beyond proud of these protestors who fought for a good cause, for something that they strongly believe in and for them to recieve such credit shocks me because they deserve so much more than what they are currently receiving. 
  3. 1 Tiego Khoza 11 Jun
    The protest was just and fair, everything has been placed out of context, its based on propaganda that is biased towards pro-Israeli elements. Had Nicola also written what I said about The Balfour declaration and the Ottoman Empire, her whole article would've lost substance, although it lacks moral standing she forgets that the Israeli government has denied the palestinians water and are refusing them to build home structures also police brutality, next time write about that and lets see how S.A.J.R justifies that. IT IS THE LESSON OF HISTORY THAT THE OPPRESSED PEOPLE EVENTUALLY WIN.

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