Palestine solidarity activists in South Africa have condemned an incident in which several protestors sang a traditional struggle sung, but replaced the lyric “shoot the farmer” with words which translate into English as “shoot the Jew.”
“The board and staff of BDS South Africa condemn any and all incitement to violence and racism – including anti-Semitism and Zionism – even if it were to come from within our ranks,” the group said in a statement.
“Given our history of work against racism, including anti-Semitism, we unequivocally distance ourselves from the singing of this song and its sentiments. Also, to tarnish all Jews with the Zionist brush is racism regardless of who does it. Racism is racism and racism is abominable.”
The incident occurred on 28 August at Wits University in Johannesburg, at a protest organized and attended by members of Wits University Palestine Solidarity Committee, BDS South Africa, staff, students and members of the public.
The protest targeted a performance by Daniel Zamir, an Israeli musician, as well as racial profiling by the organizers of the concert itself, the South African Zionist Federation.
Despite this, some defend the song as a legitimate part of the history of the struggle against racism and colonialism, and it is still sung, often with the lyrics changed to reflect different targets of protest.
Seizing on incident
Pro-Israel groups seized on the incident to discredit BDS South Africa and its allies.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies claimed that the incident “unmistakably shows … that BDS SA’s real agenda is not to stand up for the Palestinian cause, but to incite hatred, and possibly even violence, against Jewish South Africans.”
Avi Mayer, the social media director of Israel’s government-backed Jewish Agency, an organization that works against Palestinian rights, tweeted that “The #BDS’ers try very hard to hide their movement’s anti-Semitism from public view. But sometimes it seeps through.”
“While we call for constant vigilance against all racism, it is unfortunate but not unexpected that supporters of Israel will focus on the singing of this song,” BDS South Africa’s statement noted in reaction to similar claims.
“The purpose and context of the protest were and remain the larger struggle against Israeli apartheid, Israel’s illegal occupation and its violation of Palestinian rights.”
No room for racism
The condemnation from BDS South Africa echoes a statement signed by more than one hundred Palestinian intellectuals and activists last year which affirms:
The struggle for our inalienable rights is one opposed to all forms of racism and bigotry, including, but not limited to, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Zionism, and other forms of bigotry directed at anyone, and in particular people of color and indigenous peoples everywhere.
That statement concludes with a “call on people around the world to join us in a morally consistent stance that opposes racism and bigotry in all forms. An ethical struggle for justice and equal rights in any context entails zero tolerance for racial discrimination and racism anywhere.”