The dance card had been completed before the ball began. The streets outside the SA–Israel Expo that took place in Sandton, Johannesburg yesterday were always going to see protests and picketing, demeaning and denial and the regular well-worn toasts to hatred, to racism and to anti-Semitism. So no one was surprised or even disappointed. It was pretty much business as usual.
Except for one startling aspect. Mainstream South African press this morning reported that the BDS “bussed in” protestors who had no idea as to why they were there. They quote a woman from an impoverished area with a prettier name than it warrants – Orange Farm — that she was not aware as to why she was there or whom she was supporting or even protesting against. And she was not the only one. It seems that the “catchment” area for the BDS rent-a-crowd was this area situated around 45km outside of Johannesburg.
The irony of this should not be allowed to go unnoticed. Orange Farm has a population of around 100,000 people. It is an “informal settlement” with few paved roads and has most people living in shacks. Only small areas of Orange Farm have been electrified. Access to clean water is limited and when it rains the “dongas” on the roads fill with muddy water that makes living there almost impossible. It is poverty stricken with more than 40 percent of the population unemployed. It is a stain on South Africa’s record of transformation. Its people are desperate, but they have done nothing to deserve being exploited, being paraded and being used to further a political and racial goal of an organisation that claims to support human rights, but ignores their plight.
The rhetoric of the BDS outside the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg was desperate and ill concealed. In many ways we have been spoiled by the slick pretence that tries to separate Jews from Zionists, and the BDS has tried for some time to convince us all that it is not all Jews they detest. It’s only the Zionist ones. Despite the famous “Shoot the Jew” and other priceless humanitarian comments, the BDS has spent a lot of energy trying to sell a concept that pretty much no one has bought. Sunday’s protest, perhaps due to lack of success, dissolved very quickly and real agendas and racism quickly exposed. “You Jews don’t belong in South Africa!” “This is not Israel, we will kill you!” were some of the poisonous comments recorded from the ranks of the BDS.
The atmosphere inside the conference facility was a completely different matter. Multiple exhibitors, attendees and delegates such as the Jewish Agency’s Natan Sharansky and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat mingled with the crowds, allowed photos and debated concepts and gave support to those contemplating aliya, those wanting to invest and those who were just checking out the options for some time in the future.
The last item on the well-worn dance card is always the review. And one can’t look at the day without wondering; when the sun sets and the bus has silently transported the residents of Orange Farm back to their shacks that are unlikely to have electricity or water or security; back to a place where it is best to be indoors after dark and back to a place where lack of education and of employment makes the future precarious and fragile; it is then that one has to wonder how the BDS could have been so cruel and so cold and so uncaring to the people of their own country. And one has to indeed wonder, if their agenda is not humanitarian relief, then what it really is.