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BDS-SA’s head honcho faces sexual harassment charges




Muhammed Desai, the Director and Co-founder of BDS-SA is alleged to have sexually harassed an American touring academic and two other women travelling with her last week in Johannesburg.

According to the Daily Vox, an independent media publication, the woman laid a charge against Desai last Sunday after he allegedly sexually harassed her and two other foreigners last Thursday night (21 March) at an eatery in Melville, Johannesburg.

The woman, Sang Hea Kil, is reported to have laid a complaint at the Brixton Police Station. She had been visiting South Africa as part of an international delegation of academics hosted by the Afro Middle East Centre (AMEC).

Desai, one of the most vocal anti-Israel activists, is at the forefront of pro-Palestine campaigns. A career activist, Desai is often the face of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), and is seen with a clenched fist chanting “Amandla!” or “Viva!” for any and every cause from calls for free sanitary towels to Fees Must Fall.

He is a regular feature at anti-Israel protest gatherings calling for human rights, including women’s rights.

In a statement released by the organisation on Wednesday afternoon, the BDS-SA board said it was “aware of the allegations against Mr Muhammed Desai”, and that it “wishes to assure those concerned and the public that we take this matter seriously. In dealing with the matter, we will take into consideration the rights of all those involved.”

In its report, the Daily Vox claims it has seen the case docket which lists the offences as “indecent assault” and “sexual harassment”.

Kil was in Johannesburg to attend a conference on Palestine, and then stayed on for a study tour of Johannesburg hosted by AMEC, a research institute on Middle Eastern affairs and relations between the Middle East and Africa.

Responding to questions put to it by the SA Jewish Report, AMEC said the three women had been in South Africa for a conference.

Mahlatse Mpya, AMEC media and publications co-ordinator, told the SA Jewish Report the centre had hosted a conference from 18 to 19 March themed “Teaching Palestine: pedagogical praxis and the indivisibility of justice”, together with three other university-based institutes.

“The conference was followed by a study tour for 18 foreign academics who participated in the conference. The three women were part of that group,” she said.

Mpya confirmed that Kil had “laid the charge at the Brixton Police Station. The alleged incident took place at a restaurant in Melville.”

Kil was accompanied to the Brixton Police Station by a member of AMEC, it said.

“We listened to all their complaints and allegations, and our relevant staff members, together with other members of the visiting group provided emotional support. We also responded to their request to invite BDS-SA board members to a meeting.”

Mpya confirmed that a meeting was held on Saturday night at the AMEC offices between Desai and members of the board of BDS-SA, and the women.

“The discussions at the meeting were regarded as confidential, and we are not at liberty to discuss their content,” she said.

However she said, “The meeting ended with a list of demands given to the BDS-SA board members by the assembled group, and the board members’ assurance that they would take these seriously.”

According to Mpya, the three women have demanded an unconditional apology from Desai, as well as an investigation into the complaints levelled against him. It is understood that they demanded that he be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and that he be prevented from speaking publicly about the Middle East until the matter has been resolved.

Mpya said, “The meeting gave the BDS-SA board a few days to discuss the demands (including the request for an apology) and to revert to them.”

The timing couldn’t be worse for the organisation, as this week marks the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return, and next week marks the start of Israel Apartheid Week.

According to her online profile, Sang Hea Kil is an associate professor at the San José State University in the department of justice studies. She is a “scholar-activist” whose research examines the criminalisation of immigrants in the news media, especially in relation to the United States-Mexico border coverage.”

Muhammed Desai is the co-founder of BDS South Africa. He graduated from Wits University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in law and international relations. While on campus, he co-founded the Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee, which he led for a further four years.

In response to the allegations, the Mail & Guardian tweeted, “Another important story about allegations of harassment at another South African NGO.”

There was a slow response on social media to the initial report.

In one tweet, Courtney said, “Solidarity to all those who have experienced this, and who are still experiencing this. Let this not be covered up, because we think it’s going to hurt the Palestinian movement in SA. We will rebuild.”

Saya Pierce-Jones replied, “This really shouldn’t hurt the BDS movement though. There are wolves in sheep’s skin in every good cause.”

Courtney responded, “Exactly! Harassment in activist spaces is so real, then when you expose it, you’re told that you’re distracting from the ‘real’ issues. We must continue to expose them.”

Desai declined to comment despite numerous requests.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Rafi

    Apr 30, 2019 at 12:44 am

    ‘Desai should now change his hate filled organisation’s name to —

    Bullies, Deviants and Sexists’

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