Anti-Semitism and the African landscape

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Anti-Semitism and the African lanscape

The history of the Jewish people and that of many African countries is more similar than it is different. There are some striking parallels – tribal allegiances, love of the indigenous land and a shared history of persecution and colonialism. In the fledgling days before the founding of the modern State of Israel, Jews fought to end the British mandate that effectively colonized their ancient land.

It was with philosophy that both the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl and Israel’s former foreign minister, Golda Meir, recognized that the Jewish state was the natural partner to help beleaguered African countries.

They recognized the shared desires of the African people as well as the Jews to live free in their homelands and respected the national liberation movements of the time, sensing a mutual desire to that of their own Zionist ideals. Zionism after all, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

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Golda dances a hora in Africa

But today, much like in many other parts of the world, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head on the continent. A continent that has suffered more than its own share of discrimination and persecution.

From the north to the south

Many would be surprised to find out that there once were thriving Jewish communities in many countries across the continent and while communities are sparse in sub-Saharan Africa, in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, they once flourished.

The Lemba of Southern Africa, the Igbo of Nigeria, Ethiopan Jews, the Abuyudaya of Uganda and the Sephardi and Ashkenazi of Europe, many of whom settled in Africa to escape persecution and who can forget the Mizrahi Jews of Arab countries, who were forced to flee Islamic rulers.

Due to rising anti-Semitism and poverty, these communities barely exist anymore. Outside of South Africa which has the largest community on the continent, there were communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Zimbabwe. While many left for Israel, others left for Europe or elsewhere.

The continent’s massive poverty rates and political turmoil in the late 20th century led to some African national leaders blaming Jews for the problems of their countries which they claimed, “are operated by a conspiracy against the African race”. Anti-Semitism in Africa includes false rumors and allegations that the AIDS pandemic, was bioengineered by either the US, the United Nations or “the Jews” in a plot to exterminate millions of black Africans and that the disease is a part of the “Jewish” or “white Europeans’ maneuvers against Africa” or a continuous practice of “racial genocide”. African nations are prone to accept unreliable anti-Semitic reports and revisionist history that the slavery of black Africans in the new world was because of “Jewish merchants working for European colonial masters”. According to social scientists, these theories are appealing to some impoverished and downtrodden people without enough education to know the “Jewish conspiracy” myth is false and unprovable.

The South African story

In post-Apartheid South Africa, the Jewish community has not been spared. This is particularly troubling considering that the contribution made by the Jewish community during the Apartheid years was significant in the fight to end the racist regime. One famous example was that out of the 13 Rivonia trialists, 5 were Jewish.

Who can forget the inimitable Helen Suzman, the lone voice of opposition in parliament to the Apartheid government? Jewish and a woman to boot! Some of the greatest names to enter the pantheon of anti-Apartheid activists, be it through political, cultural, religious or civil action, include Johnny Clegg, Rabbi Isaacson, Joe Slovo, Arthur Chaskalson, Nadine Gordimer, Gill Marcus and Albie Sachs to name but a few. The founding fathers of the Rainbow Nation, Mandela, Sisulu and Thambo were intimately involved with Jews, having worked alongside many throughout their legal careers. Mandela famously visited Israel with “his” Rabbi Cyril Harris and met with then Prime- Minister, Shimon Peres. Mandela famously refers to Menachem Begin and the Irgun as the basis on which he hoped to model the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:

“I read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.”

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When icons meet – Johannesburg, 2002

I think that these great stalwarts of human rights would be greatly hurt to witness the appalling invective levelled against South Africa’s Jewish community.

Good Jew, Bad Jew

Manifesting more as anti-Zionism rather than traditional anti-Semitism (although the two cannot be separated) the clarion call seems to be “Jews are welcome, Zionists are not.” Or are they? Over the past few years, anti-Semitism is manifesting on the Southern tip of the continent much like it is all over the world. Social media platforms have become new battlefields and threats of violence and subsequent incidents have increased.

There seems to be a division between who is termed “good” or “bad” Jew. Good Jews apparently are not Zionist and identify as Jewish by “cultural ties”, not those awful traditional, Israel loving kind. There have been atrocious incidents of anti-Semitism ranging from the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement and their cries of “shoot the Jew” at a conference hosted by the South African Zionist Federation to the appalling tweets from populist Black Land First leader, Andile Mngxitama and a whole host of incidents and issues in between.

Many look to Europe or the USA as the barometer on how anti-Semitism manifests but if we ignore the South African model, we do so at our peril. It would appear that when BDS and their supporters in South Africa sneeze, their global network catches a cold. This is not to say that anti-Semitism in South Africa is restricted to BDS and the far left but the far right, perhaps emboldened by the alarming rise of their counterparts in the USA are rearing their ugly, neo-Nazi heads as well.

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Wits Campus Johannesburg 2016 amidst “fees must fall” 

The consequences of rising anti-Semitism in South Africa are worrying. This could mean the marginalizing of a minority group that has played a vital role in not just the fight against the injustice of the past but continues to punch far above its size in helping to build a new country. It would also result in many of South Africa’s Jews leaving for safer pastures – and along with them, investment and employment opportunities for many of the country’s impoverished.

South Africans fought against Apartheid and many paid a painful price. After the struggles of the country’s dark past, do we really want to see this vicious cycle of discrimination and racism rise again?

Silence is no longer an option and the message that Jews are just as much a colour in the Rainbow Nation as any other community needs to be heard. Loudly.

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The time to rise

I am incensed. Outraged. Fuming. Enough is enough!! I am climbing on my battered soapbox to appeal to you all – it is time to raise our voices, scream, shout, blow fire and fight the rising hate. It is not enough to say “it is terrible” or sit on the sidelines and hope that someone else will fight the battle – we all have to show up. And the timing could not be more important!

The visuals coming in from the ultra-right or neo Nazi or whatever label one chooses to assign those spewing hatred that would not be out of place in Germany circa 1939, are beyond offensive and should have absolutely no place in our society.

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Charlottesville may have brought rising anti-Semitism into global consciousness with the repulsive visuals but the reality is that this cancerous hate has been bubbling under the surface and now the situation has reached boiling point. The KKK and their ilk never went way – they were just dormant, looking for the right opportunity to don their bed-sheet outfits and flaming crosses and now their cause has been given a tailwind. In a recent poll, it was found that 1 in 10 Americans find neo-Nazi speech acceptable. Did we not vow NEVER AGAIN?

Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, I witnessed what happens when racism and discrimination is allowed to flourish. This heinous, racist regime was brought to its knees and eventually ended because citizens said ENOUGH. Although there is much healing that still needs to happen and the road to reconciliation takes many detours, there is much to be gained from working hard to overcome past mistrust and hurt.

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Apartheid South Africa’s discriminatory laws

Anti-Semitism is oldest hatred in the world. The premise doesn’t change – just the outfit. Whether it is disguised as anti-Zionism, calls for boycotts from BDS, snide WASPY comments, ultra-left intersectionality or neo-Nazi blood curdling hatred, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it is a duck!

At the risk of sounding alarmist, the death camps like Auschwitz were built on words and this kind of speech has resulted in acts of violence across the world and they also embolden the latent racists to crawl out of their holes. From the murders of Jews in the Hyper Cacher in Paris to repugnant social media posts in South Africa, the march of hate in Charlottesville to the poster child for intersectionality, Linda Sarsour, saying “Zionists are creepy” or her comments that “Zionists cannot be feminists”. Linda I will meet you at the intersection of Zionism and Feminism anytime!

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The leader of South Africa’s “Black Land First” movement tweets like a twit!

This is not a new and there is very little difference between the hate invective of neo-Nazis, Hamas or even BDS who call for the destruction of the state of Israel We are not talking buildings – but people

The oldest hatred, anti-Semitism is rising. Has risen. Continues to rise.

I think it was the wise Hillel in the Ethics of our Fathers who said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” –

So the next time you see a swastika or even hear the call “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free “remember that these share the same root – hatred.

I am appealing not just to my Jewish brothers and sisters but to anyone who wants to see this cancerous hatred ended. Stand up. Use your voice. Take action. We have the means, now we need the numbers.

Wise words from my friend Elana Heideman of The Israel Forever Foundation

Do it for the voiceless. Do it for the generations before us who couldn’t. Do it for the generations to come. Do it to make the world a better place. Do it for yourself. When we stand tall and strong and firm in our convictions, we are indestructible! My grandfathers, of blessed memory both served in the forces that fought the Nazi war machine – who am I to be silent now?

It is time to say that it is no longer open season on Jews. Who is joining me?

Why we do what we do

This article is featured on The Israel Forever Foundation website:

Why we do what we do

A few days  ago, Israel buried three members of the Saloman family, brutally slaughtered this past Friday night as they welcomed in the Sabbath. Responding to a knock on the door, the unsuspecting family let in 19 year old Omar al-Abed from the nearby village of Kobar.  To say that our collective hearts are broken is an understatement.

Fueled on a steady diet of incitement and hatred, al-Abed entered the house and butchered the family, leaving a bloodbath in his wake.

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Salomon family victims

One would think that news like this would grab international headlines but sadly not a peep, or a bleep. The few news channels that did cover the attacked neglected to mention that it was motivated by terror, rather using descriptions like “home invasion”.

A week before, two of Israel’s finest, Command Sergeant Major Hayil Satawi and Command Sergeant Major Kamil Shanaan were killed by terrorists while on duty on the Temple Mount. They were not Jewish, but Druze, sharing an ancient covenant with their Jewish brethren in the land of Israel.

The terrorist who targeted them did not care whether they were Jewish or not just that they wore the noble uniform of our security forces.

Terror does not discriminate. It simply kills.

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Command Sergeant Major Hayil Satawi and Command Sergeant Major Kamil Shanaan

A losing battle?

More often than not I am asked whether or not we are fighting a losing battle, after all we are competing with major budgets and sheer numbers from the other side who seem to be more able to create a narrative for a gullible public than we are. In the court of public opinion, Israel is seen as the Goliath to the Palestinian David and there are no prizes for guessing who gets the sympathy vote.

The mainstream news media seem to ignore the Israeli narrative or pander to major advertisers.

I can understand their frustration – one only has to open a newspaper or surf social media to see the type of comments or sheer volume but we have the same weapons that they do and my answer to anyone who feels overwhelmed is simple. Just show up.

We all have the power to do it. We are all equipped with the same “weapons of mass education”. So let us use them effectively.

The Big Facebook Experiment

Show up on social media to share articles, memes, YouTube clips and the like. Share articles and emails. Most important learn the facts and make sure that you are armed with the truth to disarm the haters. It is important to know that every time you show up and speak the truth, you give a voice to the millions upon whose shoulders we stand. You give a voice to those throughout our history who were silenced. You give a voice to those in communities around the world who are frightened.  You give a voice to those of us who refuse to be silent. And you give a voice to those murdered because others choose to use theirs to incite with hatred.

Speak for Chaya, Elad and Yosef. Speak for Gilad, Eyal and Naphtali, Speak for Hadas and Hadar. Speak for all of them. Speak for all of us. This is why we do what we do.

Talking Tachlis: WIZO at the UN – an interview with Prof. Rivka Lazovsky

There is nothing like a mention of the United Nations to raise our blood pressure. This once noble institution has become a hotbed of anti-Israel activity but did you know that WIZO has a presence at the UN on UNICEF and ECOSOC? WIZO lobbies for the rights of women and children and Irecently sat down with Prof. Rivka Lazovsky to find out more. View our discussion here:

WIZO at the UN

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WIZO Wonder Women at the UN: Anne Argi, Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, Mireille Manocherian and Dr Hava Bugajer.

Summer of Love

This article currently appears on Israelink:

Summer of Love

“Take me down to the Paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, take me home” – sings Guns ‘n Roses front man, Axel Rose, who will be performing in Tel Aviv this summer. Well, the song could literally be about Israel because Tel Aviv is the paradise city where the grass is green (thanks to Israeli agricultural ingenuity) and the girls are pretty and to many a visiting rock star, it feels like home.

Just ask another great rocker- Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who was so taken with Israel, he told star struck fans at Ha Yarkon Park that he was making Aliyah. Jewish Agency Chairman, Natan Sharansky, wasted no time in telling the rocker to walk this way to where he could fill out the appropriate forms.

Steven Tyler sings “Crying” in Tel Aviv

What is the appeal of Israel to so many rock stars? This coming summer is really proving to be the summer of love (and depleted bank accounts) as we debate who to see. Guns n Roses or Britney, bitch? Rod Stewart or Radiohead? Bryan Adams or Foreigner? Decisions, decisions, oy vey! Hardly a week goes by without an announcement of another major act visiting our shores.

Comfortably dumb

BDS poster boy, Roger Waters, must be about to have an apoplexy. The comfortably dumb Pink Floyd star’s favourite past time is sending letters to visiting bands encouraging them to join the boycott of Israel. He has succeeded with a few but the majority are fed up with Water’s acting like just another p**** in the wall! Clearly he needs an education and Radiohead front man, Thom Yorke, was more than happy to school Waters saying in a statement, “It’s deeply disrespectful to assume that we’re either being misinformed or that we’re so retarded we can’t make these decisions ourselves,” Yorke said. “I thought it was patronizing in the extreme… it’s really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years.”

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Bow chica wow wow! More and more big name bands are deciding to see Israel for themselves and formulate their own opinions. They realise that music can help by not just building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians but also heals wounds. The legendary Carlos Santana, played to a capacity crowd in Tel Aviv and so did the soulful Alicia Keyes before him but what makes them extra special is that they both made the effort to use their epic star power and encourage music programmes for both Palestinian and Israeli children. Music has the power to build the connections that politics cannot.

All we are saying is give peace a chance

What BDS also neglect to tell you is their methods of discouraging artists from performing in Israel are not restricted to letters from the dodgy Roger but they also use tactic of intimidation and threats of violence. Legendary Beatle, Paul McCartney and numerous others including Mali’s Salif Keita have spoken about how they or their band members have been threatened by BDS activists. One can only look to social media to see how they are subjected to a barrage of abuse and outright lies.

In an interview with JCPA researcher, Adam Shay, McCartney was quoted as saying, “I got explicit death threats, but I have no intention of surrendering. I refuse to cancel my performances in Israel.”

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Even electro virtuoso, Moby, said that said that the intensity of the attacks against him before he came to Israel made him suspicious that this “wasn’t an objective movement that was concerned with people’s welfare, but with something dark and dubious.”

The jig is up and the BDSholes have been exposed yet again for the hatemongers that they are and their abject fear that people may visit Israel, in this case world famous celebrities with a massive fan base, and see something that they like or even…shock….horror……the truth!

One thing is for sure, Israelis are going to keep on rocking and enjoy our summer of love.

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From Wonder Woman to wondering women

Read all about Wonder Woman on Israelink right here:

Wonder Woman and wondering women

Wonder Woman is exactly that. She stands for justice and truth, compassion and kindness. Wonder Woman is so fabulous, even her accessories are indestructible and face it, who doesn’t love fashion that has truth wielding super powers?

It seems quite fitting that the bodacious Gal Gadot, one of the best Israeli exports since Waze and Mobileye, fills this iconic role. Beautiful, with Amazonian proportions and a deep love of her home country, Israel, Gadot is the perfect choice. While there are some who have sour grapes (yes you, BDS!) it hasn’t stopped her meteoric rise to the top and record-breaking box office takings. Talk about girl power in a rocking outfit!

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Our gal, Gal in action

Wonder Woman has super human strength, longevity and mind blowing reflexes – well, what do you expect from someone who served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)!  She is a celebration of feminism and femininity and we Israelis are kvelling, we are so proud of our gal, Gal.

A neighbourhood of no’s

Women’s rights in the rest of the Middle East are not as wonder-ful. Often relegated to second class status, our sisters in our very volatile neighbourhood do not enjoy as many rights as their Israeli sisters do. Israel’s detractors (yes, you again BDS!) would have you believe that women in minority communities in Israel are oppressed and subject to racially discriminating laws. This is so untrue, in fact, the Israeli Justice Ministry just swore in its first Qadi, a female sharia judge.

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Adv. Hana Khatib sworn in as first Qadi by President Rivlin 

For most women who live in the region, the Middle East is just a neighbourhood of no’s. No rights to vote, own property or business, no rights to as lucrative an education as their male counterparts, no rights to the freedom of expression or sexual orientation. In Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are at an all-time low, women are not even allowed to drive or go anywhere without a chaperone. In many countries women have to cover their faces as well as their bodies and the effective message is that they have been silenced. In some instances women are subject to the most inhumane torture, female genital mutilation, for fear that she may enjoy sexual pleasure.

Where women have been raped or fallen in love with someone who is not their chose match, they are often blamed and face honour killings, a hideous phenomenon which has left many dead or severely disfigured as a result of these heinous acts of retribution that seldom, if ever goes punished.

While women around the world celebrated International Woman’s Day on the 8th of March, Palestinian women in Hamas governed Gaza were prohibited from enjoying similar festivities.  Hamas did this without a giving a reason and the territory continues to become more and more “conservative” and have imposed a strict dress code on women and banned them from smoking in cafes.

Unorthodox treatment

It is not just Muslim women who suffer from inequality. Christian women have been raped and sold into slavery or killed as the Islamic State continues its march of destruction through the neighbourhood.  Very little has entered the global consciousness about the situation facing Middle Eastern Christian women. There have been no marches, no protests and no vigils.

In some ultra-Orthodox sects in the Jewish community, women are also discriminated against. The horrendous trend of spitting on little girls who are not dressed “modest enough” or the relegation of women to sitting at the back of the bus has raised the ire of many women in Israel. While we enjoy considerably more rights than our sisters in the rest of our Middle Eastern neighbourhood, like many western women we continue to fight for the improvement of the status of women in areas like salary suffrage and employment equity.

The difference is that we can – we have a voice and nobody is scuppering to silence us.

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Blazing a trail

In fact, Israel can boast about remarkable strides in women’s equality. We can lay claim to one of the first female Prime Ministers in Golda Meir, Nobel Prize winners in science and other fields, Arab women who serve in the diplomatic corps, who are beauty queens and even win cooking competitions like Masterchef. In Israel, women can be pilots, pioneers, entrepreneurs and home executives, ballerinas and superheroes. They can be anything they want to be. We can blaze a trail for our sisters across the region. Nobody is stopping us.

It is only fitting that we add Gal Gadot, to the pantheon of Israeli Wonder Women.

Sara Zoabi shares her love for Israel

The pursuit of justice and equal rights for women in the Middle East requires super human effort and dedication. It requires giving the voiceless a voice, uplifting the downtrodden and advocating for the powerless. Women in the Middle East have been wondering for a long time – who speaks on their behalf?

Perhaps Wonder Woman, with her dedication to the pursuit of justice and her exceptional longevity is the super hero women in the region have been waiting for. Some might say it is a Herculean task. I say it is a job perfect for Wonder Woman.

Boycotts, shmoycotts – who are the real losers?

This article is currently featured on Israelink; Read it here:

Boycotts shmoycotts on Israelink

The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and sanctions) movement sure is noisy. While lacking cerebral substance, they understand the veracity of symbolism and language that is provocative, emotive and emotional. They understand that gratuitous use of the word Apartheid is guaranteed to get an emotional reaction from people.

I use the word gratuitous intentionally because BDS have no respect or understanding of the crime that was Apartheid and the trauma of its victims. To them it is simply evocative, sexy packaging that can be used to market their agenda and make it appealing to the masses who are concerned about human rights.

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If you wrap up hatred and sell it in an emotional package, then surely you must be on the side of good, right?

Wrong. There is a more nefarious agenda at play here and it is time to expose it.

A wolfish agenda in sheep’s clothing

Why is BDS so hell bent on this accusation? The motivation is simple. They want to paint Israel with the same colours as that of Apartheid South Africa and their rationale is that dish out the same treatment, then you can change the political status quo. Sounds simple doesn’t it. Except that in this case, changing the status quo in Israeli politics is not the end game result that detractors hope to achieve. In this case, questioning Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state is up for debate. Anti-Israelists will passionately argue that this treatment worked for South Africa but fail to realise that the South African paradigm is not one solution fits all.

The question we have to ask ourselves is who really stands to lose in a boycott of Israel.

BDS would have you believe that boycotts and sanctions contributed to the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa and that the same kind of well strategized campaign can do the same to change Israeli policies. There are very clear differences – in Apartheid South Africa, the minority white population had dominion over the majority black population and eventually, it was the citizens of the country who spoke out overwhelmingly in a referendum that the time had long passed to do away with this heinous regime.

Israelis and Palestinians are far more complicated. We desire a divorce from each other – hopefully as amicable as possible because we each have our own desires of national aspiration. It is extremely presumptuous for South Africans to impose their solution on to one of the most difficult political conflicts in history.

Did boycotts and sanctions contribute to the fall of Apartheid?

The idea of boycotts and sanctions was debated in the 1960’s but only really gained traction in the 1980’s. In November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, a non-binding resolution establishing the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and called for imposing economic and other sanctions on South Africa. All Western nations were unhappy with the call for sanctions and as a result boycotted the committee.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and the height of the regime and it can be said that while sanctions did have an effect on the economy, the credit for ending Apartheid for once and for all has to go to Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk who took great, sometimes unpopular risks, to ensure a better future for South Africans based of the democratic principles of equality and justice for all.

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FW De Klerk and Nelson Mandela

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far, far more complex.  Nobody questioned South Africa’s right to exist as a nation state and the fact that BDS’s endgame is “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” means that we are dealing with a movement that does not seek democratic principles but rather the destruction of one of the main players – Israel.

Who stands to lose the most?

It is very easy for activists on both sides to play armchair politician but the impact is on the citizens. Palestinians stand to lose a lot more than Israeli’s in a boycott.  While the impact on Israelis is largely psychological and the economy continues to grow, Palestinians are impacted the most by this campaign. You would think that BDS would care that this is affecting the very people they purport to help, but they don’t. They prefer to demolish bridges rather than build them.

Human rights activist explains how the BDS movement and their boycott campaigns affects ordinary Palestinians in this video clip:

Bassem Eid demolishes BDS

If BDS really cared about the Palestinians, they would advocate that they become a second Singapore or start-up nation like their neighbour and do away with the murderous incitement and genocidal wishes.

Peace will be built from the ground up. It will start with individuals and communities, business people and investors. Boycotts only create barriers to this and discourage positive discours.

While the situation in the Middle East is not an easy one to fix, and Lord knows many have tried, perhaps the best way forward is to proceed with cautious hope and not to cry boycott at the drop of a hat.

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Palestinian and Israeli workers at the SodaStream Factory