Born-again BDS: Barred From Israel, South African Model Becomes Boycott Movement's Star

Shashi Naidoo faced massive backlash for praising Israel and calling out Hamas. Now she's the face of South African BDS, part of long list of those blocked from entering Israel

A South African celebrity model and actress is the latest star of the Israeli government’s campaign to send a clear message to public figures who publicly advocate for any form of boycott against Israel: stay away.

For Shashi Naidoo, the refusal of Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Interior Minister Aryeh Dery to grant her entrance to the country followed a dramatic saga. After making positive comments about Israel and denigrating Hamas on social media, Naidoo faced massive backlash. Following the firestorm of negative feedback, Naidoo made a quick and dramatic political turn-around and emotionally apologized for her statements, and was taken under the wing of the South African Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment Movement.

WATCH: Shashi Naidoo apologises, announces trip to Palestine News24

On June 18, Naidoo faced fierce criticism in the aftermath of an argument with an Instagram follower in which she defended Israel at length as “the antithesis of an apartheid state.”Gaza, she wrote, was “a shithole of immense proportions” under Hamas rule, since the “terrorist” group was using international aid for weapons instead of humanitarian needs.

In addition to a tidal wave of angry reactions to her remarks, Naidoo received numerous death and rape threats, and several of the brands she represented dropped her has a spokesperson. The backlash so upset Naidoo that she posted a video of a tearful apology along with a lengthy declaration of regret.

On June 20, Naidoo appeared repentant at a press conference organized by the BDS South Africa organization where she said "I've been very disappointed in myself for not knowing and being fully aware of what was happening in Gaza," and that her defense of Israeli policy had been copied from a friend and weren’t her own words.

She said that she had approached the BDS group but that this “in no way does this mean I am radicalizing myself to one side or the other,” adding tearfully that she was “working towards forgiving myself.”  

At the press conference Naidoo announced that she had agreed to take part in “a fact-finding visit to Palestine” led by the South African Council of Churches and South African Jews for a Free Palestine in which she would be “re-educated.”

Last week, she was given advanced notice that she would not be permitted to enter Israel, and told the South African Jewish Report in reaction that “only hope was to meet the people, experience the land and give aid to those in need. It was never a BDS itinerary. I really am devastated.”

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation released a statement endorsing the decision saying: “It took less than 48 hours for the BDS to do a complete turn-around over Shashi Naidoo... Indeed, the intention now is to set her up as a poster girl for the BDS movement.”

Despite the advance warning, Naidoo chose to make the trip to Israel and was refused entrance due to the politics of the organizations that were sponsoring her trip.

Interior Minister Arye Dery said, “The boycott organizations opposing Israel have reached the stage where they are threatening people in order to get them to act against Israel. This is a particularly terrible case and as a result I have decided to use my authority in order to prevent her entrance to Israel.”

In reaction to the move, BDS South Africa's Kwara Kekana told the Independent that preventing Naidoo’s entrance is “a clear indication of Israel's refusal to allow freedom of movement, expression and association. This behavior by Israel infringes on our diplomatic relations.”

South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel this May over the death of protesters from Gaza marching on the Israeli border. According to the local BDS leader, Naidoo’s case justified “the immediate and unconditional downgrade of the SA Embassy as Israel. There can be no doubt that Israel is a hostile state to South Africa."

Naidoo is the fourth recent high-profile case in July of Israel’s use of the “travel ban” law passed last year which forbids granting entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.

On July 1, government authorities turned away Ariel Gold, a Jewish American citizen who is a national leader of the far-left Code Pink organization, which supports BDS.

On July 20, two Dutch researchers, Lydia de Leeuw and Pauline Overeem, who are involved in efforts to clearly label produce brought into Holland as coming from West Bank settlements were turned away. The two women challenged the Israeli government’s claim that they were BDS activists who and protested the fact that they were “denied the right to contact the Dutch embassy or a lawyer to appeal this decision.” Erdan’s office claimed that de Leeuw, who has lived in Gaza and the West Bank, had worked to promote the BDS movement and harm Israel.

On July 24, Ana Sanchez Mera, a member of the Spanish BDS National Committee (BNC) was next on the list whom Erdan recommended, and Deri agreed - should be  barred from the country.

Erdan charged that movement Sanchez both “led demonstrations by the BNC calling for embargoes against Israel, and personally, actively and consistently promoted boycotts against the State of Israel,” Erdan said in a statement.