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November 17, 2021 1:10 pm

South African Press Wages Anti-Israel Smear Campaign Over Miss Universe Pageant

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


A group of pro-Palestine supporters protested in front of Miss South Africa offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. The protesters promote a boycott campaign against the Miss Universe pageant that will be held in Eilat, Israel, starting on December 12, 2021. They also call on Miss South Africa to decline her participation in the pageant. Photo: EFE / EPA/Reuters.

The whipped-up controversy over the upcoming Miss Universe beauty pageant being held in Israel took another turn this week, when the South African government announced it was withdrawing its support for the reigning Miss South Africa (SA).

In a statement, the country’s sports, arts, and culture ministry accused the Miss South Africa pageant of “intransigence and disregard of advice” for pushing ahead with plans for its winner — Lalela Mswane — to compete on the global stage in Israel.

The government also disclosed that it had been pressuring the SA reps to boycott Israel for some time, under the pretense that it was trying to protect Mswane from the apparent reputational damage her appearance might cause:

The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and [the] Government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such.

While the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) bills the competition as a “global, inclusive” event that “celebrates women of all cultures and backgrounds,” this has not prevented some “activists” from desperately trying to politicize it.

The manufactured furor started after the Israeli Ministry of Tourism revealed in July that Israel had been chosen as the host, in part because of the Jewish state’s world-leading COVID-19 vaccination drive that made it an attractive choice for a huge gathering of international visitors.

The backlash from both pro-Palestinian actors and those in South Africa who identify with the false “apartheid” analogy that is frequently used to smear the Jewish state was immediate.

The grandson of former South African president Nelson Mandela, Inkosi Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, was among the first to jump on the anti-Israel bandwagon, releasing a statement that was littered with libels and distortions:

Decisive action by Miss Malaysia and Miss Indonesia has now set the trend and we call on all the Miss Universe participants from all over the world to send us letters announcing their withdrawal and disassociating from an event that normalises the Apartheid Israel daily killing, bulldozing of homes and orchards and maiming young and innocent children.

Aside from the fact that Miss Malaysia actually pulled out of the pageant ostensibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting international travel options, Mandla Mandela’s criticism also earned a stinging rebuke from Miss Universe Iraq 2017, Sarah Idan, who pointed out that participants were representing neither government, politics and “definitely not” Mandela’s “political agenda.”

However, the recent intervention by South Africa’s government came about following an unrelenting, dishonest, and anti-Israel campaign waged by the South African media.

News24’s coverage is a case in point.

The English-language website, which is South Africa’s most popular with more than 10 million unique monthly visitors, has published numerous stories that have baselessly tarred the Jewish state.

A November 11th piece in News24’s “City Press” section is a good example.

The article titled, “Apartheid Israel is no different from South Africa’s historical oppression,” is, bizarrely, filed in the news section of the website, despite it reading like an opinion piece from the most ardent anti-Israel critic.

It states:

Palestinian civil rights movements in South Africa are up in arms about Miss South Africa’s non-withdrawal from the pending Miss Universe pageant, saying that apartheid Israel is no different from our country’s historical oppression.…

[SA BDS Coalition coordinator Roshan Dadoo] also mentioned activist Muna el-Kurd’s recent visit to South Africa. She is a 23-year-old Palestinian woman who focused the world’s attention on the brutal forced removals of Palestinians from their homes in her Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The claim that Israel is upholding a system of apartheid akin to South Africa’s past is stated as an undisputed fact, while the reality is that the allegation is a lie, and an antisemitic smear that is used to delegitimize the Jewish state.

Israeli law guarantees equal rights for all Israelis. The responsibility of Palestinian residents of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip falls at the doors of their leaders, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by most Western countries.

Israeli citizens of Arab origin serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, and in every facet of public and private life. There is absolutely no way this can be characterized as apartheid.

These are facts — as inconvenient as they might be for some.

The lack of balance in the article is also striking: two virulently anti-Israel individuals are quoted at length, without a hint of an opposing view being offered.

Furthermore, the reference to Palestinian so-called “activist” Muna el-Kurd and the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon HaTzadik case is downright dishonest. As HonestReporting has detailed at length, the property dispute was not a clear-cut case of some innocent Palestinian families being turfed out of their homes, but rather one that involved a lengthy legal process that revolved around several Arab tenants attempting to shirk their rent — even after admitting they didn’t own the properties.

Another News24 piece from November 13, Palestinian civil rights organizations warn Miss SA against condoning apartheid Israel,” blares:

Civil rights organizations Africa4Palestine and Palestine Solidarity Alliance amplified their demands by taking their protest to the Nine Squared Communications building in Rivonia, Johannesburg, on Friday. Nine Squared Communications is co-owned by Miss SA chief executive officer (CEO) Stephanie Weils and controls the rights to the Miss SA trademark.

As with the aforementioned article, there is no punctuation in the headline that would indicate to the reader that the “apartheid” accusation comes from those quoted within the story. It is simply presented as fact.

There is also a dearth of information provided about the groups that have been generously referred to as “civil rights organizations.”

Here is what has been omitted about the Africa4Palestine and Palestine Solidarity Alliance groups.

The two have, as noted by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, repeatedly engaged in bullying and smear campaigns designed to intimidate South African Jews. And last year, Africa4Palestine posted a vile cartoon that was reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in which Jews were depicted as vermin.

The above are just some examples of the anti-Israel vitriol from South Africa’s biggest purveyor of news, yet they are just the tip of the iceberg for this type of one-sided anti-Israel reportage.

Mendacious attempts to compare South Africa’s former system of institutionalized racism to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians must stop: it trivializes the painful legacy of apartheid, while painting a tediously facile picture of a nuanced and complex issue.

The author is a writer-researcher for HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, where a version of this article first appeared.

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