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Antisemitic Clover cartoon is BDS’s sour “last gasp”



The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has always insisted that it isn’t antisemitic, but the newly-formed SA BDS Coalition (South African Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Coalition) showed its true colours this week by posting what clearly looks like an antisemitic cartoon on its Facebook page.

The cartoon was posted to encourage South Africans to boycott Clover Industries after about 2 000 workers at the dairy company went on an indefinite nationwide strike. It depicts a greedy, overweight giant of a man eating a pile of money while the “man on the street” is drawn as a small, insignificant figure sitting in front of an empty plate. The image of a Clover product fills the rest of the frame.

It’s accompanied by the caption, “Greedy bosses connected to apartheid Israel. Blood curdling milk [and cheese, yoghurt, etc.]. Every reason to boycott Clover! Change your brand. Viva GIWUSA [General Industrial Workers Union of South Africa] and the struggle for a living wage! Clover was recently permitted by the Competition Commission and the department of trade and industry to be owned by Central Bottling Company (CBC), in turn owned by Milco, an Israeli concern operating in the Occupied Territories. The unions and Palestine solidarity organisations jointly submitted objections to the Competition Tribunal. Our objections were ignored.”

The caption is misleading in that Milco SA doesn’t operate in the Occupied Territories. In the merger notice to the Competition Authority, it is stated that the consortium was created specifically for the Clover transaction, and has ties to South Africa and Mauritius. CBC operates in Bnei Brak, which isn’t an occupied territory.

In September 2019, South Africa’s Competition Tribunal approved Clover’s takeover by Milco SA, a consortium headed by Israeli beverage firm CBC, for R4.8 billion. The tribunal cleared the deal subject to a range of conditions. Clover and Milco undertook to create 550 new full-time jobs in the five years following the approval of their transaction. The approval of the deal came months after Brimstone Investment Corporation pulled out amidst opposition from what was then BDS South Africa (now Africa4Palestine).

On 16 October 2020, the New Frame social justice news website reported that “GIWUSA and Palestine solidarity groups have now approached the courts for a judicial review of the Competition Commission’s approval for the takeover, and GIWUSA plans to march on the Israeli embassy.” Eyewitness News reported that they would also march to Clover’s head offices.

The SA BDS Coalition is a relatively new group that was formed after the international BDS movement cut ties with what was then BDS South Africa over a sexual-harassment scandal. The SA BDS Coalition is affiliated to the international BDS body.

Antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, Milton Shain, confirmed that the cartoon was antisemitic, tying into classic tropes of Jews being obsessed with money, being greedy, exploiting the worker, and having sinister control over the world. He said that while the SA BDS Coalition was calling for a boycott of Clover products because of the Israeli connection, in this image, the Israeli and the Jew are shown to be one and the same.

The SA BDS Coalition insisted that “the image used isn’t antisemitic, and in fact, we are very concerned at the SA Jewish Report’s assumption that the portrayal of a greedy capitalist is a portrayal of a Jew. Insinuating that any fat capitalist is Jewish is, without question, an antisemitic assumption!”

The coalition went on to say, “The fact that Clover is majority owned by an Israeli company doesn’t exonerate the company from attacks by the workers’ union. Clover has been accused by GIWUSA of placing the financial burden of COVID-19 on its workers. The SA BDS Coalition and the BDS National Committee [BNC] have a strong stance against any forms of racism and prejudice, and we don’t tolerate any form of antisemitism.”

Shain, however, says, “One needs to see this cartoon in context. While it isn’t an obvious representation of a Jewish capitalist, it has enough resonance with age-old antisemitic images and tropes. In short, it represents a Jewish obsession with money at the expense of exploited workers. The capitalist is stuffing his mouth with profit, while the worker at home looks at an empty plate. BDS desperately tried to stop an Israeli group from buying out Clover, and this is its bitter last gasp. Israel, it must be remembered, is ‘the Jew’ writ large.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ David Saks says, “The cartoon itself doesn’t have stereotypical antisemitic features, but the juxtaposing of classic hard leftist, anti-capitalist rhetoric with swipes at ‘apartheid Israel’ is unlikely to have been accidental. It helps confirm suspicions that stereotypes of greedy, exploitative Jews are being used to fuel the radical anti-Israel positions held by the various trade unions.”

The SA BDS Coalition’s continued opposition to the Clover deal flies in the face of the government’s approval of the deal. In February 2019, then-International Relations and Cooperation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said, “There is no economic ban in this country on Israel whatsoever, and we will allow the normal bidding processes to follow through.”

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