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Pharrell Braces for Protests During South African Tour

Pro-Palestinian group opposes musician’s partnership with retail chain with ties to Israel

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Pharrell Williams will face protests from a pro-Palestinian group during his South African tour next month over a partnership with a retail chain.

Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Pharrell Williams will face protests during his South African tour next months from a pro-Palestinian group that opposes his partnership with Woolworths, a major retailer in the country that has trade ties with Israel, Reuters reports.

The South African branch of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) — a movement opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestine — is upset about Pharrell’s involvement in Woolworths’ “Are You With Us” campaign. The musician will act as style director on several projects, including a fashion line and fundraising for education, all of which are centered around promoting sustainability.

A representative for Williams could not make the singer immediately available for comment. Representatives for Woolworths and BDS did not immediately reply to requests for comments.

The City of Cape Town has already responded to the potential action by denying BDS an application to stage a protest the night of Pharrell’s first concert, September 21st. The venue, Grand West Casino, has also said they will not allow any protests on their property. 

Still, Braam Hanekom, a BDS South Africa board member, said protestors could block roads to the venues on concert nights, delay proceedings or even gather within the venue. 

“He is about to face the biggest backlash any artist has faced in South Africa in over 30 years, since the days of apartheid,” Hanekom said. “He is walking into a very angry, unhappy environment because he has chosen to walk with Woolworths.”

In a previously released statement, Woolworths said that it did not source produce from Palestinian territories occupied by Israel, and that less than 0.1 percent of its food came from Israel. Still, the BDS protests are expected to draw large numbers, especially in Cape Town, where a large Muslim community resides.

Pharrell is not the first musician to be targeted by BDS, and the movement’s previous campaigns have been successful. In May, Lauryn Hill canceled a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel at the behest of BDS and other Palestine solidarity organizations; and last year Sinead O’Connor withdrew from her show in Israel under similar circumstances. Other musicians, including Thurston Moore and Roger Waters, have spoken against the Israeli occupation and refused to perform in the country, as well, citing their support of BDS.

In This Article: Pharrell, Pharrell Williams

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