In the days leading up to Pharrell Williams’ concert in Cape Town, BDS threatened that their protest against the event was going to be, “the largest protest any artist has faced in South Africa since the dawn of democracy”. Quite a bold statement and one to have us all quivering. Unfortunately for them, neither the 50 000 people they initially boasted they would attract, nor the 40 000 they ‘compromised on in their court application’ and not even the 16 000 protesters that the courts permitted turned up on the day. Instead, under a thousand arrived to express their outrage. Various estimates by different media between 250 and 1000, all this despite the free trains and buses that BDS arranged to transport the promised `tens of thousands of protesters’.
But that is nothing new. In March this year, BDS threatened to “Shut down Sandton” and ensure that “no Zionist conference will be held on our soil” if the SA Zionist Federation didn’t abide by their edict to cancel their conference. Again the tens of thousands of angry protesters they threatened would arrive never materialized, and eventually, only a meagre crowd of 150, some of whom were bused in from Orange Farm, arrived. (One of the latter told The Star, “I don’t know why we are here, who we are supporting and against who.”).
While the crowds may be small, the hostility is real. BDS campaigns constantly result in hatred and aggression; at the protest outside the SAZF conference protesters made it clear to arriving guests, “We must do everything we can to ensure that we do not allow proud Zionist racists onto our land. Voetsak. You think that this is Israel we will kill you.” At Wits University BDS protesters sang Dubula I’Juda – `Shoot the Jew’, which their coordinator Muhammed Desai justified and condoned. BDS campaigns have resulted in calls for Jewish students to be expelled from universities and in the depositing of pigs’ heads in supermarkets with the explicit purpose of offending and intimidating the Jewish community. BDS activists have forced their way into concerts to prevent artists from performing and likewise invaded lecture halls to prevent people they disapprove of from speaking.
So, even with this latest rally, in true BDS tradition, Desai included his trademark threat, “Those who have gone back to Woolworths, we know who you are and where you live.” This is just another example of the bullying to anyone that dare not share Desai’s moral indignation.
All this is the antithesis of the principles of our constitution that ensures freedom of expression, thought and association. And it seems that people in general are waking up to these incessant threats and hate speech by BDS and choosing to distance themselves from this organization.
Thankfully, it would appear that most South Africans do not subscribe to the bullying tactics employed by BDS. It was particularly interesting yesterday was reading the comments in the social media. Comments reflected a feeling that South Africans are now starting to feel `gatvol’ with the intimidation and threats. News24 quoted South Africans asking why BDS doesn’t protest matters `closer to home” and in response to a EWN tweet, “more reporters than protesters at protest”, “they invested so much time and resources. Only 1000? And how has this helped to isolate Israel and help the Palestinians?” and in response to another tweeter, “What a bloody waste of time, why don’t they protest against corruption, education, health?pfhhf”. Several tweeters questioned why the obsession with Israel in the context of the Syrian crisis including Tom Eaten who said, “if you want to go to the #PharrellProtest on time make sure you take the route past the Syrian embassy. Not a car in sight.”
One can, of course, understand Desai’s frustration. Woolworths’ profits have increased dramatically over the period that BDS has conducted its crusade against them. Their “independent impact report” , by an unidentified “Wits University researcher” claiming that “the boycott campaign is costing Woolworths R8 million per month and that the true loss to the company “could be in the hundreds of millions.”, was exposed to have been written not by a ‘financial expert’ but rather by a Wits Sociology honours student (who, surprise surprise, also happens to be a BDS activist). Unsurprisingly the JSE reported Woolworths results reported on 15 July that sales were up 12% on year, ahead of estimates and forecasts. These outstanding results must have been as much of a disappointment to BDS as the dismal turnout at their `groundbreaking’ #PharrellProtest yesterday.
While the responses clearly stated that the protest had ben flop of note, I would like to suggest that South Africans were the true winners. The failure of another BDS attempt to intimidate their fellow citizens showed yet again that we are a people that will stand loud and proud with our constitution. BDS’s anti-Woolworths campaign has only reflected their hate-filled agenda – intimidating and threatening shoppers, placing pigs heads on Kosher shelves and trashing a Pretoria store causing R200 000 of damage has exposed an organization whose motives have little to do with finding a peaceful resolution to the tragic Palestinian-Israeli conflict and much to do with creating polarisation and hostility between fellow South Africans. Last night’s failed protest reinforced that message.