Love, Lies and Loose Emails: Azad Essa and the Daily Vox plumb new depths

My past variance with the Daily Vox (DV) following their ad hominem attack on BDS-SA sometime last year was a distant memory. I had moved on to more important things since I had failed in my attempts at a constructive debate with Azad Essa, the Executive Editor of the DV. The latter was comfortable in listening to his own voice, rather than engage in substantive debate. He quickly epitomized for me the difference between journalism and hackery; those who have the intelligence to substantively engage an issue and those whose only limited skill is the process of writing. Unfortunately this bodes poorly for the DV which has some potential. However a number of issues related to the DV this week got me entangled in the latest imbroglio.

The first disturbing incident occurred last week when I emailed an invitation for a Palestinian solidarity event to a number of people including an associate of the DV. Incredulously she wrote back in response to the invitation accusing me of stalking her!

The second issue that disrupted my week was brought to my attention by others since I admit to not being a reader of the Daily Vox. With limited time and so many quality publications in the market to choose from one has to be discerning.  In his latest attack on BDS-SA, Essa, rekindles my old disagreement with him (see other postings on this blog). I reluctantly enter this spat simply because Essa continues his lie. This what he wrote about me in his latest editorial in the DV (hyperlinked to my original article):

Let’s be clear as well that when we have taken on BDS-SA previously, we were only too happy to allow its supporters to write back and label me a moron, among other things. Never mind the same author, in the comments section, as well in person, told me: “It wasn’t what was said, it was how you said it.” What is this ridiculous insecurity that marks BDS-SA activism that you feel that a handful of critical articles threatens the hard years of work that many of you have put into the movement

Aside from characterising me as insecure – which I can live with – he asserts that I called him a moron. He goes even further: in a leap of faith he declares that my sole gripe with his previous piece on BDS-SA was its tone.  On the first point I admit that I have accurately characterised Essa through a range of descriptors but I deny I ever calling him a moron and I challenge him to prove me wrong. Let me be clear: I am not denying that Essa is a moron; simply that I never referred to him as such!

His second assertion is as false as the first – and again I dare him to produce evidence of my comment, which he refers to in quotes, to prove his assertion. It would be ridiculous of me to write a 3000+ word riposte to his piece simply because I did not like his tone. Now if I did that it would reveal my insecurity. My frank piece was to expose his vacuity. Of course his article was also insulting. So in effect it was insensitive vacuity.  If Essa would for a moment stop listening to those little delusional voices in his head and read what I wrote he would understand it better. Just in case his attention span does not allow it, I will allow him a summary of what I wrote. The crux of my article –

  • Challenged his aversion to middle-class activism and what he terms ‘career-activism’ as well as his antiquated notions of class and class struggle.
  • Situated the strategy of BDS-SA within a broader framework of political struggle.
  • Challenged his assertions that BDS-SA is not rooted in local struggles, that the movement is not principled, and does not take anti-Semitism seriously.
  • Discusses the Woolworths boycott and outlined victories that are not apparent when one only looks at a single end-point (as he does).
  • Edifies him about BDS-SA’s approach to Cape Union Mart and their long-standing activism against G4S – which he completely misrepresented.
  • Pointed out some of the contradictions in his article and challenged his ‘whataboutery’ that is the hallmark of critics of Palestinian activism.

At least to me, this does not sound like I only took issue with his tone!

Let me reiterate that there were numerous opportunities for Essa to publicly engage me on his article and clarify issues, but he evaded every single one of those.

I must admit that I first met Essa at a social function in December and not to personalise the encounter around his article I endeavoured to engage him on it. However because of the occasion and him being busy with social engagements we could not have a substantive discussion. But I do remember him prompting the question whether my objection was only with the tone of his input rather than the substance of his article. I’ll be dishonest if I say I can remember how I responded. But it does seem that Essa is desperate for validation – particularly that my only objection to his article was its tone. I’m not going to allow him that luxury simply because it is not true however he may rationalise it in his own head. So what Essa writes about me in his latest editorial is patently untrue.

This brings me to his latest typically tabloidy,  triumphalistic editorial in the DV regarding BDS-SA. I think there is significant merit in Steven Friedman’s reflections as well as those of Minhaj Jeenah and both demand substantive engagement by BDS-SA. But timing is everything. Why would DV want to carry articles critical of BDS-SA during the week of its most important campaigns – which align with other such international campaigns? It’s like gate-crashing a wedding and telling the bride how ugly she is.  Without an agenda it would be difficult to explain this timing.

The second question is why would the DV give BDS-SA such limited time to respond to the articles when the DV had them well in advance (as confirmed by Jeenah). Particularly since everyone knows that it was BDS’s busiest period. So Farid Esack was absolutely correct in asking the right questions, though I admit his language was a bit inelegant, but nevertheless understandable.

The third question is why would the DV want to run with Esack’s response in the way it did? How did this contribute to anything except gloating rights for showing up BDS-SA? ‘Gotcha!’  would have been an appropriate headline, since the DV threatened disruption of IAW (see below).

However Essa’s agenda began to unravel when the writer of one of his critical pieces exposed his shenanigans. Here is Minhaj Jeenah’s recounting his experience with Essa and requesting the DV to remove his piece from their website (my highlights):

So, in an attempt to distance myself from this absurd Daily Vox vs. BDS-SA saga, I emailed the DV editors insisting that they remove my op-ed from their website. Seems it’s not happening.

A few weeks ago the executive editor asked me to write an article on Palestine with pre-determined topics, supposedly, aimed at critiquing the current narrative of Palestine solidarity in South Africa.

I did write a piece (which I’m unapologetic about). I unpacked the history of PS in SA, problematised it currently and attempted to critique its current strategy and principle. I was very careful in my approach, as one should be when one is committed to a just movement and is engaging with the movement on a platform external to that movement.

The editor emailed back my piece with heavily edited track changes. Most of which, fundamentally, changed my approach and shifted my argument. Key words were replaced, paragraphs removed, hyper-links were added, and the title implied that I’m arguing that PS in SA is irrelevant. Basically, positions and ideas were imposed on what I had written to suit a pre-determined approach.

Naturally, I just “rejected all track changes in document” (quite a satisfying action) and sent it back. He edited it again, I refused to accept, the original got published.

Oh, the evening before the piece was going to be published (along with Steven Friedman’s piece), Daily Vox and its editor threatened (not sure who), via social media, that tomorrow they are going to “disrupt” (LOL).

Today I found out, through a disgusting tabloid-type editorial, that they emailed my piece before publishing (obviously, with their bogus edits) to BDS-SA asking them to “respond to the commentary on BDS-SA included in these pieces”. Btw, I was never asked if this could be sent before-hand. In fact, I planned on meeting with them and using the article for a broader discussion within the solidarity movement. The pieces were framed as some kind of superficial collective aggression on BDS-SA (the NGO). DV shrewdly tried to squeeze the op-ed into this framing through attempts at reshaping it, emails to BDS-SA and their threats to “disrupt” (LOL). Oh, and remember that politically deficient ad-hominem article about virgin active and what not. Ya.

(Let’s be honest, the DV executive editor having beef with Desai is quite plausible)

And, also, for some strange reason, DV also gave a platform to a Zionist (after claiming to support the PS struggle). Idk. I think I’m, mostly, disappointed because I had faith in the Daily Vox but, on this issue, they’ve proven to be just another media house searching every unprincipled avenue to gain (political) relevance.

Remember that “third force” they were speaking about last year when comrades occupied the Union Buildings? Seems like DV is the third force seeking to undermine the Palestine struggle.

Comrades, yes in our pursuit of justice we need to seriously critique our movements and reclaim them, but this can no longer be done in the presence of lumpen media (and zionists and racists and sexists and and). BDS-SA and the broader PS movement has poor tactic, is plagued by a patriarchal culture and its leaders are problematic, but they are ours and we’ll deal with them.

People of the media variety (who claim to support justice), just like the PS movement in SA: more strategy and more principle. Or maybe I’m overestimating you guys. idk

But you can never write off Essa’s disingenuity or arrogance, except that in this case he exposes himself as he goes into damage control mode. He ascribes his attempt at rewriting Jeenah’s piece as merely editorial changes. His response to Jeenah on Facebook is reproduced below.

Hi Minhaj, I commissioned you to write the piece and I gave you a topic. You were one of 20 people on our commissioning list, so of course we had to make sure certain themes were covered and not replicated. As the commissioning editor, I tried to make the piece more coherent, readable and tried to make your argument more succinct. I passed it back to you with my suggestions and you refused to accept the changes and we eventually published your copy, mostly as is, in the form that you wanted. If you think I was putting words in your mouth, that’s unfortunate, though, that is unimportant now, since we ran with your piece. I am not entirely sure what the gripe is since your article is in the form that you wanted. Furthermore, we passed on your piece to BDS-SA as a courtesy to them, as in we were doing them a favour by giving them advance notice. We didn’t have to inform you of that. If you want to discuss some of the other misconceptions you have, for instance why we ran a lonely Zionist piece out of 20 pro-Palestine pieces, you can ask rather than drawing ill-conceived and embarrassing conclusions. We are a media-house, not an activist group. You are welcome to clarify anything else you wish over email. thanks, azad


Interestingly he denies none of the accusations, except to state that eventually it was published in its original form. So there are two narratives here: the writer claims that his piece was edited to fundamentally change some aspects of his argument; while the editor claims it was merely form that he was changing. Of course form, like timing, is significant. Having experience with Essa I know whose narrative I would believe. Perhaps if we have access to Essa’s edits, we can judge for ourselves.

Essa continues to share gems from his journalistic manual when he claims he was doing BDS a favour by showing them an advance copy! I thought this would be an essential element of fair journalism when attempting to elicit a response.

So if one considers all these incidents – the bizarre response to my invitation to a Palestine solidarity event, Essa’s dishonesty about my article and responses, DV publishing criticisms of BDS-SA during IAW and giving them extremely limited time to respond, and Minhaj Jeenah’s recounting his experience of how Essa attempt to manipulate his article – it clearly points to an agenda on the part of Daily Vox. I haven’t figured out clearly what this agenda is, but the more critical question is what drives this agenda?  Shock and tabloid journalism to increase readership and revenue, score points against adversaries, spurned lovers, unrequited love, secretive weddings, jealousy? I don’t know if any of these are true but having no inkling of Essa’s romantic liaisons I would not be surprised if some of these may be subconsciously haunting him and accounts for his response. But the truth is I don’t know! I am merely a reluctant entrant into this discussion, forced into it by Essa’s continued dishonesty.

Shuaib Manjra

14th March 2016






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