The Media Review Network (MRN) has come out strongly against the conduct of Virgin Active’s Houghton branch, after well-known Palestinian activist, Mohammed Desai was ejected from the gym for donning a t-shirt deemed ‘politically inflammatory’. Desai, the national co-ordinator for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS SA) was forcibly removed by police at the request of the branches management, following complaints from fellow gym-goers over his choice of pro-Palestinian attire.
Desai himself has confirmed that he received successive calls from the branch and regional managers prior to the incident, advising him against wearing the t-shirt to gym. Furthermore, the regional manager is alleged to have said that Desai would be denied access to any of the company’s branches if he refused to adhere to the request.
MRN has since described the incident as symptomatic of a “larger malaise” experienced by the local Zionist lobby, with the BDS campaign making huge grounds within South African society.
“South Africans are noticing. This is not only the Zionist lobby but also those that are unaware of the crisis that is unfolding within Palestine,” said MRN researcher, Nabila Ismail.
With Virgin Active confirming that it has no written policy barring members from wearing specific articles of clothing, Ismail said it was clear the company were being pressured into enacting such restrictions. If this was the case, she said there need be a blanket policy for all.
“It is quite clear that other individuals, Zionist patrons, have worn paraphernalia in support of the IDF, the Zionist lobby and Israel. If this policy is implemented to pro-Palestinian solidarity structures then it should be enforced on others as well,” she suggested, however stressing that all such scenarios would be in violation of the individual’s freedom of expression.
Ismail also said the incident need be looked at in a much larger context of the influence the Zionist lobby were enforcing on companies such as Virgin Active, all aimed at stifling the voice of pro-Palestinian activists.
“Why is it that Virgin Active got involved in this situation? Clearly this was a personal view that they (complainants) had. Why did Virgin Active take it upon themselves to also be upset with Mohammed for wearing this shirt?” she questioned, further bringing into question the companies conduct on the matter.
The t-shirt in question features the logos of the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA) and BDS SA, over the image of struggle icon, Chris Hani. It also features the caption “From the coast of Cape Town to the coast of Gaza in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli Apartheid”. VOC