Anti-Woolies calls about more than Palestine

HAPPY: Singer Pharrell Williams claims to care about children.

HAPPY: Singer Pharrell Williams claims to care about children.

Published Sep 20, 2015


Woolworths and Pharrell Williams are using their domestic charity endeavours to mask anti-Palestinian propaganda, so join the boycotts and protests, writes Michael Mayalo.

“Happiness may have different meanings for different people. But we can all agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of our fellow human beings live. The pursuit of happiness lies at the core of human endeavours.” – Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the UN on International Happiness Day

US artist Pharrell Williams claims to care about making people happy. In fact, he has penned a world-famous song about it called Happy. And from Gaza to Los Angeles, South Africa to Istanbul, world citizenry have made remixes of Pharrell’s song, uploading them to YouTube to demonstrate what happiness means to them.

Pharrell also supposedly cares about making children happy, and about the education of young learners. So much so that Woolworths, the self-proclaimed “ethical” supermarket, has sponsored him as their spokesperson for charity and social commitment.

A question remains that seems to have been swept under the rug, though. Happiness matters, yes – but for whom? Does the “happy” Pharrell preaches speak to the conditions of Palestinians surviving under the boot of Apartheid Israel’s racist state violence? Does the happy-ness of Palestinian children not count?

If we take seriously UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s assertion that happiness has different meanings for different people, then we quickly realise that not all “happys” are the same. When we contextualise what types of happiness Pharrell and Woolworths support, we find that many may not be happy with the way they walk the walk.

As South African schoolchildren and global citizens dedicated to universal human rights and dignity for all, we find deeply troubling Woolworths’s trade relations with Apartheid Israel. Woolworths sells consumer goods and products that directly profit off the degradation of Palestinian life and land.

According to media reports, Pharrell has given support to playing in Israel in violation of the cultural boycott call issued by indigenous Palestinians – Palestinians who find no joy living under a brutal Israeli military occupation which Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared to conditions we lived under during apartheid. Additionally, Pharrell has been signed up by Woolworths to be their public face for supporting their so-called socially conscious image and charity endeavours.

Given Woolworths’s and Pharrell’s track records of being complicit in a violent Israeli regime, how seriously should we take their attempts at improving education for South African young learners?

It’s great when companies and groups dedicate themselves to doing upliftment work, especially pertaining to education of our children and youth. But when a husband goes home to abuse his wife after giving charity to a school, can we really forgive him just because he has given charity to children? No! Likewise, just because Woolworths and Pharrell claim to be assisting South African children we can’t forgive them for ignoring the cries of Palestinian children.

Israel continues to abuse and systemically erase the land and life of millions of indigenous Palestinians. How can pro-Israel corporations such as Woolworths and pro-Israel artists such as Pharrell Williams support the education of young learners in South Africa one day, yet go home to stay silent or support the abuse of Palestinian children’s livelihood and happiness in Gaza and the West Bank? Palestinian children who lost 551 of their friends when Israel bombed the Gaza Strip last year.

It is unethical and unjust to support Apartheid Israel in any way. For this reason, in 2005, Palestinian civil society called on the world to participate in the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which is based on the successful South African model of calling on the international community to help in ending apartheid.

BDS is a non-violent movement that calls on the international community to engage in boycotts of Israeli goods and services, divest from companies that are complicit in Palestinian human rights abuses, and leverage diplomatic sanctions against Apartheid Israel.

We realise that the freedom of Palestinians is inextricably linked with the freedom of South Africans, just as Tata Madiba proclaimed: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”. On the instruction of Mandela, we are committed to fighting for the freedom of Palestinians! Just as they were committed to aiding us in our fight to overcome apartheid.

One aspect of the BDS movement is the cultural boycott. Just like the world boycotted South African and other international sports teams and artists who stayed silent or approved of South African apartheid, Palestinian solidarity activists are targeting Pharrell for his “happy” approval of Apartheid Israel.

Woolworths is also currently the target of the largest consumer boycott that South Africa has witnessed since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The BDS movement in South Africa has initiated and successfully sustained the Woolworths boycott so as to remind our people that we will not let our brothers and sisters in Palestine suffer while we enjoy eating fruits and vegetables that rob Palestinians of their self-determination and sacred happiness.

The #BoycottWoolworths campaign forms part of the many various campaigns that the BDS movement runs in this country, and has the backing of various civil society organisations and political groups.

Today Pharrell is scheduled to perform as part of Woolworths’s propaganda campaign to save its public image by whitewashing it with a domestic charity campaign for us young South African learners. But we are not fooled.

It is in recognising that happiness matters to all – and not just a select few – that the #?BoycottWoolworths Pharrell Williams music concert protest has been organised.

The liberation of Palestinians is the liberation of Israelis. With this in heart and mind, could we not also say that the happiness of Palestinians will lead to the happiness of Israelis?

Only when we stand on the right side of history and justice can happiness be redeemed to all, South African and Palestinian, Jew and Muslim, white and black – are you with us?

l Mayalo is an 18-year-old Grade 12 pupil at Trafalgar High

But what of our constitutional rights to shop where we please and enjoy our music of choice, and aren’t those boycotts and protests anti-Semitic? asks WENDY KAHN

“Yawn” was the comment posted by a reader of the Eye Witness News tweet, “#PharrellProtest BDS is campaigning against the retailer’s importing of Israeli products.” Aside from the incessant barrage of tweets and Facebook posts by BDS, that seems to be the general South African reaction. People are gatvol (fed up) with being intimidated and threatened for not obediently following BDS’s instructions on where to shop and what concerts they are allowed to attend.

While BDS’s right to protest and to not attend the Pharrell Williams Concert tonight should be respected, we likewise expect them to respect our constitutional right to hear the magic of Pharrell.

The City of Cape Town is now being subjected to the same threats that Jewish South Africans, and indeed all constitution-loving South African citizens, have experienced at BDS’s hands for some time now. Here are a few pointers that we would like to share with its leadership:

For a start, BDS are not concerned with Palestinian Solidarity. They are not interested in creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel – the “two state solution” supported by our government, and the majority of South Africans, including SA Jewry. Their objective, rather, is Israel’s destruction, and this vitriolic hatred has recurrently been directed against Jewish fellow South Africans. The justification by their national co-ordinator of BDS protesters chanting “shoot the Jew” is just one in a long string of vehemently anti-Semitic outcomes of BDS campaigns.

BDS’s righteous indignation against anyone standing in the way of their grandstanding is something we see time and time again. Their press conferences routinely denounce anyone who doesn’t support their “noble” campaign, be it the City of Cape Town, the universities, the stores they are boycotting or, all too often, the Jewish community.

They assume that they have a right to conduct their campaign according to their handbook (BDS101) and if anyone has the gall to question that – raising such issues as public safety, city regulations or even the notion that South Africans are entitled to attend a concert of their choosing – they are labelled as anti-Palestinian and, in Williams’s case, threatened with “the largest protest any artist has faced in South Africa since the dawn of democracy”.

“The largest protest in the history of democracy”? I’d urge the City of Cape Town not to hide under the mountain. After all, in March BDS threatened SA Jewry that if they didn’t accede to their edict to cancel the Zionist Federation Conference they would “shut down Sandton” and ensure that “no Zionist conference will be held on our soil”. In the end, the promised thousands of indignant protesters turned out to be a pitiful 150 or so “rent-a-crowd” activists bused in from Orange Farm. Indeed, the Star newspaper interviewed one such “protester”, who stated: “I can’t say I know why I’m here. They called me (the 51-year-old mother of three from Orange Farm) late yesterday to say that there was an event in Sandton and buses were available… I don’t know… who we are supporting and against who.”

On a more serious note, however, some of those participating did indeed become extremely hostile, with shouts of “Voetsek! You think that this is Israel – we will kill you”.

It is surely this kind of rhetoric, which finds its way into all BDS protests, that should not be allowed on our streets.

The City of Cape Town should be aware that BDS claims that their protests are peaceful could not be further from the truth. As its Woolworths boycott campaign has shown, it has had no compunction about resorting to intimidation, harassment, insults and threats to bully Woolworths patrons and employees, and the public at large, into acquiescing to its agenda. In the end, this led to Woolworths asking for, and being granted, a court order prohibiting BDS from “organising, co-ordinating or encouraging harassment, intimidation and/or the causing of psychological harm of Woolworths employees or customers, or engaging in any form of protest action inside Woolworths stores”.

As part of BDS’s so-called peaceful Woolworths campaign in March this year, dozens of youths ran amok in a Woolworths store in Pretoria, stealing goods collectively worth R200 000 while shouting such slogans as “Israel is the devil” and depositing BDS leaflets and posters at the scene.

And who can forget the notorious Porkgate Incident, when BDS activists deposited the head of a pig in what was thought to be the kosher meat section of a Woolworths store in Sea Point?

Whatever its claims to the contrary, BDS’s antics do nothing either to improve the lives of the Palestinians, or to advance peace between them and their Israeli neighbours.

Rather, all they have done is polarise South Africans and generate destructive confrontations. Writing in the August 14 issue of the Daily Maverick, Daily Vox executive editor Azad Essa pretty much summed things up when he described the South African chapter of the global BDS movement as being “little more than a joke” and its campaign against Woolworths as “little more than a shouting match that absolves the prickly conscience of their supporters”.

l Kahn is National Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies

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