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Downgrading the SA embassy is unconstitutional

  • Downgrade1
The proposed downgrade of the South African embassy in Israel - a motion before the ANC national conference next month - met solid opposition on constitutional, religious and communal grounds last week.
by MICHAEL BELLING | Nov 23, 2017

In fact, according to Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, chairperson of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), downgrading the embassy would “violate the Constitution” of South Africa.

She was one of five speakers in a panel discussion on the social implications of a downgrade, at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre, in partnership with the SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva explained the CRL looked at everything from the perspective of the Constitution and she suggested it was time to have “a critical discussion with the ANC about the constitutionality of this decision”.

This would be in terms of the cultural, religious, linguistic rights of the Jewish community, she says. “What are the religious rights when the access to Israel is diminished one way or another?” she asked.

“You also don't want to be in a situation when 10 to 15 years down the line, all your cultural and religious resources that you have been drawing from Israel, have been diminished,” Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said. Then you have to go through a process of resuscitating what has been diminished.”

She says the CRL has volunteered to talk to the Deputy President’s Office around this issue. Part of his mandate is to look at social cohesion in this country and that means to make everyone feel as if they belong and not to alienate any community.

“We have met with his Office and told them the Deputy President needs to rise to the occasion as it is better to deal with this before it becomes an explosion and lands up in the Constitutional Court.

“They need to listen to this from our perspective as a Chapter Nine institution designed to protect these rights and why we feel they would be violated.

Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said they have also engaged “vigorously” with the Portfolio Committee on International Affairs, among others, to make sure their warnings are heard before the decision is made.

She insisted the CRL would be engaging with all the relevant people to ensure they know what they would be violating, and what they are up against, before they make their decision.

“The rights of the Jewish community should be protected on this issue. The dignity of the Jewish community must not be violated,” she said.

“Our role is to make sure that the rights of any CRL community are not affected negatively, but promoted and protected.”

Wendy Kahn, national director of the Board, said a downgrade could result in a “tit-for-tat dance”, with visas being required for travel and no senior diplomat being available in Israel in the event of a crisis there.

The proposal to downgrade came from the ANC’s July policy conference. However, Kahn said that Edna Molewa - the minister of environmental affairs and chairperson of the ANC’s international relations committee - had assured Board President Mary Kluk that there were divergent opinions on the issue.

Molewa also told Kluk the ANC would conduct a risk analysis before the national conference and that Kluk would be involved in that process. The SAJBD has engaged with the minister and her committee in this for four months and in that time, says Kahn, it became apparent that there is very little difference between the proposed downgrade and a total shutdown of the embassy.

If the embassy in Tel Aviv closed, the South African embassy in Ramallah would also probably close, so such a decision would affect the Palestinians as much as the Israelis, Kahn said.

“The SA mission in Ramallah is reliant on our embassy in Tel Aviv for diplomatic support.” This will affect the Palestinians as much as the Israelis it targets.

“South Africa, who could play such a meaningful role in bringing peace to the region, would preclude itself from making any meaningful contribution,” she said.

“Downgrading or, in effect, shutting down the embassy, shuts down South Africa’s ability to influence the process,” she said.

Rabbi Dovid Hazdan, spiritual leader of the Great Park Synagogue and dean of Torah Academy, said that “leaving politics aside, Israel is the religious and cultural epicentre of Jewish life.

“There is no contradiction whatever between being a committed, involved South African, on the one hand, and supporting and identifying with the State of Israel on the other.

“Downgrading the South African embassy in Israel would be a very damaging step, not just for those of the Jewish faith, but for the country as a whole.

“There would be very little to gain and a great deal to lose. I urge the African National Congress to decide against adopting such a policy.”

Apostle Linda Gobodo, founder of the Vuka Africa (Arise Africa) Foundation, said that “to be blessed, South Africa, and indeed all the African nations, should stand by Israel, not work against it”.

Downgrading the embassy would be a negative step.

Christian Zionists, no less than the ruling party, desired a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and its neighbours and prayed for this continuously.

“However, South Africa cannot contribute to bringing this about if it chooses to take up a hostile position vis-à-vis Israel and refuses to engage with it.”

An embassy downgrade would potentially have very harmful consequences, for example, visas might then be required, making visits and pilgrimages more difficult.

Maintaining a close and harmonious relationship with Israel, could bring many practical advantages to South Africa, with Israel being willing to share its skills in many fields.

“Already, politically motivated hostility has prevented and is preventing South Africa from properly benefiting from these resources.

“I am against this downgrade. It will not benefit South Africa. It is useless. It is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Psychologist Leonard Carr, in a video presentation, said the Jewish community was part of the fabric of this country. Its religious and spiritual identity and links with Israel should not be confused with its national identity.

A downgrade would mean telling the Jewish community it was no longer welcome here.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Howard & Bev Croock 24 Nov
    Agreed A downgrade would mean telling the Jewish community was no longer welcome and a very strong sign to pack up and make ALIYA .  

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