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From pro-Israel pariah to BDS poster girl

  • ShashiNaidoo3
“People said they hoped I [would] get raped; others sent me my address, saying ‘we know where you live and you better not sleep at night’.” This is what South African model and celebrity Shashi Naidoo told the SA Jewish Report on Monday, after receiving more than 10 death threats and harassment because she posted a series of pro-Israel comments on Instagram.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jun 21, 2018

Just 48 hours later, she had become a poster girl for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDSSA), and was holding a press conference with the organisation. There, she said that supporting Israel “was a mistake I will regret for the rest of my life”, and she wanted to “re-educate” herself by visiting “Palestine”, which she will be doing with the South African Council of Churches and the South African Jews for a Free Palestine.

Flanked by BDSSA Director Muhammed Desai and Chairperson Farid Esack, Naidoo sat quietly as the men condemned her initial pro-Israel views, and thanked the public for standing up to them. When Naidoo eventually took the mic, she said that the backlash she had received “was a necessity. It was warranted. How else was I going to know I was wrong? It was a form of punishment”.

“We celebrate the outcry [in response to Naidoo’s pro-Israel stance] on social media,” said Desai at the press conference, giving further credence to the harassment she endured. “We will be watching and waiting, and holding her accountable,” he said with a smile.

How did this dramatic change of heart occur? On Monday evening, Naidoo told the SA Jewish Report that her life had been made a living nightmare by Israel-haters: “My mother and friends also received threats,” said Naidoo, who had to ensure that she had security outside her home. “Everyone is saying how ‘uneducated’ I am, but threats like this are not the best way to get someone to change their point of view,” she said, explaining that she had written the comments to defend her friend, DJ Black Coffee, who had come under fire for performing in Israel.

Naidoo explained that she had many Jewish friends, and was married to a Jewish man (Marc Sandler – they divorced in 2011), so she understood how South African Jews were supportive of Israel, and did not think expressing this view would incite such a vicious reaction.

“I asked a friend to help me write a response, and I copied it verbatim, even though that is not exactly my stance – the words were not my own, so this is something I shouldn’t have done,” she admitted. In fact, the points had been written in the context of a completely different debate. Naidoo then found herself being attacked from all sides.

Her post had been factual. She wrote, among other things, that “Israel in 2005 withdrew behind the green line (1967) border, and so does not in any way ‘occupy’ Gaza. Israel is the antithesis of an apartheid state, and Arab Israelis, Jews, Christians, gays, women etc. all have equal rights. Hamas, the elected government of Gaza, refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and is hell-bent on its destruction. This has been clearly articulated inter alia in its manifesto.” In the many attacks of this statement on social media, hardly anyone refuted these points.

However, ironically, when Naidoo agreed with anti-Israel activists that “Gaza is a sh*thole of immense proportions”, and does not have adequate living conditions, she was attacked by the very people propagating that narrative.

Eventually, Naidoo deleted her pro-Israel comments, and posted a video of herself tearfully apologising for them. She asked for forgiveness from Muslims, and anyone else she may have offended, but the response in the Twittersphere remained relentless.

A man named Waleed Abrahams, whose biography describes him as “full-time dad, part-time coach” tweeted: “Sashi Naidoo, you & Gareth Cliff are cut from the same cloth. Save your million apologies about Muslims. Apologise to the people of Palestine. The damage is done you tart!!”

The vicious response to Naidoo comes hot on the heels of similar aggressive reactions to radio host Gareth Cliff supporting Israel’s right to defend of its Gaza border.

“We see on Twitter how people hide behind their screens and pseudonyms attacking someone in a way they would never do face to face,” said internet expert Arthur Goldstuck. “It’s the equivalent of beating someone up in public. The distance of the computer screen dehumanises both the victim and the perpetrator, as can be seen in the language Naidoo used, which she would never use in real life. Furthermore, even if you delete something, it cannot be removed from social media. People will always take screengrabs. The statement lives on and takes on a life of its own,” he said.

Meanwhile, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, South African Friends of Israel, and a number of prominent members of the Jewish community made statements supporting Naidoo’s right to freedom of speech and to support Israel without being attacked.

By Tuesday evening, a very depressed-sounding Naidoo told the SA Jewish Report that she “would like to go to Palestine and see first-hand what’s going on”.

“I want to re-educate myself... this started because of mainly ignorance on my behalf, and I think part of that process is hearing both sides and knowing first hand what’s going on,” she said. “I know it’s a bit of a drastic decision, but I cannot be one side or the other. I don’t want to be a lobbyist for either extreme – I don’t want to be a tennis ball going from one side or the other. I just need to educate myself and know what is going on in the world. It’s a humanitarian issue at the end of the day. So I’m not on either side, but this is part of the journey that I’ve undertaken to go on.”

However, the invitations to her BDSSA press conference had already gone out, showing that she had swopped sides.

In response to Naidoo’s dramatic shift, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation released the following statement: “It took less than 48 hours for BDS to do a complete turnaround over Shashi Naidoo. On Sunday, Ms Naidoo was the devil incarnate, the target of multiple death threats for having dared to tweet comments supportive of Israel. Now, having apologised for her ‘heresy’, she is suddenly a celebrity. Indeed, the intention now is to set her up as a poster girl for the BDS movement.

“If all this represents a victory for BDS, and for anti-Israel extremists in general, it is a decidedly hollow one. Actually, what it represents is a triumph of censorship over freedom of expression, a victory for those who resort to threats, insults, and intimidation to silence those who express views in support of Israel.

“The tactics of the hate lobby merely show how false their claim is to be motivated by human rights concerns. Really, what motivates them is naked hatred for Israel, and a desire to bully other South Africans into going along with their radical agenda. Shashi Naidoo is the latest victim of this bigoted vendetta. Unless ordinary South Africans take a stand and declare, ‘Enough!’, she will not be the last.

“Ms Naidoo has expressed a willingness to learn more about the Middle East conflict. We encourage her in this endeavour. She certainly won’t learn anything but emotive rhetoric and half-truths from the BDS, and we hope that she won’t allow herself to be exploited by an obviously one-sided agenda.”

4 Comments

  1. 4 Frank 21 Jun
    Enough of the BDS activities of hatred in South Africa 
  2. 3 Minna Markowitz 22 Jun
    Her first comments regarding all the wonderful positive aspects of Israel were obviously the true feelings that she felt, in spite of of her divorce from her Jewish husband..

    The disgusting cowards,violent narrow minded ignorants terrified this poor woman into changing her mind..God knows what is truly in her heart regardless of what she says aloud having to uturn in fear of
    her life !!!!!
  3. 2 San 09 Jul
    Sad that these things happen - it exposes the true [nasty, hateful] character of BDS.
  4. 1 Sara 25 Jul
    Israel today refused her entry...BSD not welcome here.

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