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Voices

Unsightly pageant of BDS bullying

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At the time of writing, we are hopeful that Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, will represent our country at the Miss Universe pageant in Eilat in spite of the vicious campaign to prevent this from happening. Regrettably, this intimidation by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement has been allowed to assume centre stage, in spite of being pushed by a lobby that however vociferous, represents no more than a fringe group that consistently puts pursuing its anti-Israel agenda before the interests of the country as a whole.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies has issued a statement condemning this bullying campaign against Mswane, and several of our leaders have provided comment or have been interviewed by a host of media platforms, including print, electronic, radio, and TV. We have also, sadly, but almost inevitably, been called upon to follow up on a number of instances of blatant antisemitism, most notably a cartoon featuring a stereotypical antisemitic caricature that appeared on an influential online news publication. That image, at least, has been removed, and we welcome the clarification and apology provided by the editor.

The BDS movement’s inflammatory rhetoric and bullying doesn’t merely target the Israeli state, but invariably leads to our own community being maligned, threatened, and intimidated. This is something we stress continuously in our engagements with the government, media, civil society, and other policy and opinion makers.

In our various comments for the media, we have seized every opportunity to point out the thuggish behaviour of BDS agitators, whose modus operandi when people refuse to buckle to their demands is to bully, blackmail, harass, and browbeat them into submission and, should that fail, resort to barefaced lying.

We saw a classic instance of this last week when the grouping Africa4Palestine first issued a statement fraudulently claiming that Miss SA had withdrawn from the Miss Universe pageant, and when that was exposed as a blatant falsehood, added to the lie by saying that there had been a “U-turn” on her part. (Of course, there was no U-turn, as it fabricated the claim that she had withdrawn in the first place.)

What is heartening, however, is that it has been apparent that the majority of South Africans vehemently oppose BDS and Minister Nathi Mthethwa’s call for Mswane to withdraw from the Eilat pageant. We have seen this in the comments sections in the media, in posts on social media, and in polls conducted by the SABC and Newzroom Africa, where there is overwhelming support for her to participate.

Something that has provided a degree of reassurance during this difficult week was a statement issued by the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) confirming that South Africa remains committed to maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel. As Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela rightly observed, were it to sever these ties, South Africa would only exclude itself from being part of the solution to the Middle East conflict. We remain hopeful that for all the BDS-generated noise around the Miss Universe competition, this sensible, realistic approach will continue to underpin government policy in this area.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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