The grandson of iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela has condemned attempts by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) to shut down London's Palestine Expo event, at which he is slated to speak this weekend.
A statement issued today by Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela and the Royal House of Mandela read: "We wish to express our outrage and disgust at the intimidation tactics of the U.K. Lawyers for Israel. We say to them and all who seek to deny our basic human rights such as freedom of expression – hands off BDS, hands off Palestine Expo."
The statement came after it was revealed that UKLFI – a pro-Israel legal group – has made several attempts to cancel Palestine Expo, which will take place at the Olympia London this weekend. UKLFI claimed that the organisers of the Palestine Expo – UK-based NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa – are "major promoters" of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
UKLFI then used this accusation as a pretext to demand that Olympia's German co-owners cancel the event, citing a non-binding motion recently passed by the German parliament to label BDS "anti-Semitic".
Mandela argued these efforts "reflect the desperation that Apartheid Israel and its lackeys are resorting to in silencing peaceful popular protest," drawing links between Israel and South Africa's Apartheid system, which was eventually dismantled in the early 1990s after decades of struggle by Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) party.
The Royal House also criticised "the long reach of U.K. Lawyers for Israel into the upper echelons of power in the UK"; the group boasts a number of patrons who sit in the UK's House of Lords, including Lord Young, Lord Howard and Lord Carlile. When MEMO yesterday reached out to Lord Carlile for comment on UKLFI's actions, his office simply acknowledged the email and said that the peer was not able to offer any comment on the issue.
As the Royal House points out, this is not the first attempt by pro-Israel organisations to shutter BDS activities and events. Their statement noted that UKLFI's "despicable bullying act follows hot on the heels of similar acts by the organizers of the Open Source Festival in Düsseldorf, [Germany], who disinvited US artist Talib Kweli after his refusal to distance himself from BDS".
Open Source Festival said on its Facebook page that, in late May, it received a letter calling on the organisers to withdraw Kweli's invitation to play at the event in light of his support for BDS. When Kweli refused to denounce the movement, he was informed he could no longer appear at the festival. It is not clear who – or indeed which organisation – sent the letter to Open Source Festival.
Last month, Germany banned Palestinian writer and journalist Khalid Barakat and his wife, Charlotte Keats, from attending pro-Palestine events because of their support for BDS. The German police detained Barakat as he headed to an event about Palestine in German capital Berlin, informing him that he would be banned from taking part in any political or cultural events, as well as family meetings with more than ten attendees. If he breaks these restrictions, Barakat was told he would be detained for one year and forced to pay a fine.