A South African model who faced death threats after excoriating the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas for its abuses in the Gaza Strip has pledged to “re-educate” herself on the situation.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the national coordinator of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign in South Africa, Mohammed Desai, said Shashi Naidoo had “[accepted] the proposal of going on a fact-finding visit to Palestine.”
Desai — who in 2013 controversially defended BDS activists who chanted, “Shoot the Jew” — called the decision “a very positive, concrete, and practical step by Shashi.”
The model faced a torrent of abuse on Saturday, after she responded to an Instagram follower who criticized her photo with Black Coffee — a South African DJ who was denounced by BDS for performing in Israel — by describing Hamas as a “terrorist organisation” that “refuses to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and is hell bent on its destruction.”
She then called Gaza “a sh*thole of immense proportions,” before blaming Hamas for using foreign aid “to build terror tunnels and rockets,” in lieu of schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure.
Naidoo said on Wednesday that her comments were written by a friend who she approached for help in drafting “an educated response,” and that she “idiotically” only read the first few lines of the rebuttal before posting it online under her name.
The model swiftly deleted the comments after they first drew outrage and uploaded a tearful apology video, but said she continued receiving hate mail, including 10 death threats.
She told journalists that she now sees the backlash “as something that was a necessity.”
“There were more than death threats, there were some terrible, vicious things,” Naidoo recalled. “I’ve chosen not to speak of it anymore, because I think it makes it seem that the other side is extremely militant.”
She noted that she “pretty much lost all my endorsements” since the controversy, saying it was “the biggest mistake that I’ve made in my life and I will regret it for every day of my life.”
When asked if she has forgiven herself for the remarks, Naidoo tearfully replied, “Not entirely, I think it’s a work in progress.”
Farid Esack — a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Johannesburg, who in 2015 said he would not “feign horror” over the terrorist attacks in Paris or condemn their perpetrators — told journalists the entire incident might generally help people “learn to exercise greater caution.”
“There aren’t many people in the [opposition party Democratic Alliance] who are going to be hastening with posts defending colonialism, for example,” he said. “And there is a reason to that.”
While a number of commentators — including some reporters who attended the press conference — praised Naidoo’s courage, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said earlier in the week it was “appalled by how flagrantly the right to freedom of expression is being abused when it comes to debating the Israeli-Palestinian question.”
“Hard-core haters of Israel … are using blatant threats and intimidation to punish and silence anyone who dares to challenge their bigoted narrative,” they wrote. “It is something that needs to be condemned across the board, not only as a threat to fundamental democratic freedom, but as an affront to common decency.”