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SA government taking sides, despite factual inaccuracies

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Many countries condemned Gaza firing rockets and mortars at Israel this week, but not our government, which has consistently demanded that Israel withdraw from Gaza.
by NICOLA MILTZ | May 31, 2018

Our government has been ridiculed for repeatedly reiterating that the “Israel Defence Forces (IDF) must withdraw from Gaza”, despite the fact that it did so in 2005.

In at least three recent statements, the ruling party and the government have demanded the IDF withdraw from Gaza.

They have been ridiculed on social media and in international reports with labels such as “ignorant” and accusations of “lagging behind the times”, along with other insults. Despite this, officials in government have stuck to this narrative.

“They [government officials] look like idiots of the highest order,” said Zev Krengel, vice-president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), this week. “It shows a lack of understanding of the complexities of the situation. They are not on the ground and they’re not prepared to understand it, it’s all about making popular remarks.”

He added: “I don’t think the government really cares; it gets roasted all the time.”

The facts are that Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all settlements there in 2005 as part of the Gaza Disengagement Plan, promoted by then prime minister Ariel Sharon – but it maintains a blockade of the territory with the stated intention of preventing the smuggling of weapons there. Hamas, the Islamist terror group, rules Gaza.

The SA Jewish Report has tried exhaustively for several weeks to reach Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu for comment, without success. Her spokesperson, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, has not returned any of our WhatsApp messages, emails or phone calls.

This week, on the same day that a barrage of rockets from Gaza fell on southern Israel, with one landing in a kindergarten, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule tweeted that the national executive committee (NEC) “urges government to implement the 54th national conference decision on downgrading the SA embassy in Israel to a liaison office”.

He said nothing about that morning’s firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza.

Magashule reiterated the ANC’s “commitment to support all processes towards recognition of the rights of Palestinians, and a peaceful resolution to the conflict, in the context of a two-state solution”.

He added that the NEC supported the decision of the government to withdraw its Ambassador from Israel “under the recent senseless and brutal massacre of Palestinians”.

The fact that the majority of those killed were members of the terrorist organisation, Hamas, was not mentioned.

This week, governments around the world – including representatives from the European Union and United Nations – have condemned the indiscriminate attacks against Israel from Gaza, with the EU and UN calling the move “unacceptable”.

Steven Gruzd, an analyst at the SA Institute of International Affairs, said this week that statements by the South African government about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict show a strong bias towards the Palestinians.

“There is a natural affinity, and the ANC and government both have a particular narrative on the conflict which always condemns Israel and supports the Palestinians,” he said. “Yet South Africa often gets the details wrong and shows little understanding of the nuances and complexity of the situation.”

Gruzd added that the government’s latest example of calling on Israel to withdraw from Gaza was “an embarrassing schoolboy error”.

“The government has been roasted for this on social media and in some of the international press. As South Africa disengages more and more from Israel, its understanding of what is actually happening on the ground declines. Ideology trumps objectivity.”

Political commentator Brooks Spector said the South African government was not operating independently in this case, but rather, it was operating as a function of the ruling party. “The government here is not worried about the legal or technical differences of what is or isn’t an occupation; it is looking at it more broad-scale. Life in Gaza is harsh, there’s no getting around it. Whether this is entirely the fault of Israel is a different question.”

He said there was a “natural landscape” for the South African government to feel “it has no choice but to speak out loudly and forthrightly” about the current circumstances in the region.

While Gaza was “not technically under occupation”, Israel maintained a fairly strong blockade, he added. “Even if Israel can argue they are doing what they doing because they must deal with the aggressive, unfriendly Hamas-led area, the optics look bad.

“South Africa is responding from the weight of history, from the weight of its own experiences and from the compelling and obvious viewable human tragedy.”

Spector said the government was listening to the sources of information that it had traditionally relied upon, as well as to a mix of people from the UN and other international bodies, reports and advisories.

Meanwhile, the South African media was mostly silent this week about the rocket fire into Israel with little, if any, reportage.

However, Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), appeared on SABC TV on the weekend and went on an uninterrupted anti-Israel rampage for well over five minutes. His unabated tirade culminated in threats against the Jewish community.

Vavi grossly exaggerated the facts regarding the recent Gaza flare-up. He accused Israel of “basically the worst kind of ethnic cleansing of society” and said that what the Palestinians were going through was “far more worse [sic]” than what South Africans experienced during apartheid.

He called for new legislation to “punish racists” and all those who “support the Israel apartheid state” and called on the government to cut all cultural and economic ties with Israel.

Shaun Zagnoev, the national chairman of the SAJBD, responded by saying: “All South Africans have a constitutional right to freedom of speech and association. Vavi’s comments are clearly a threat not only to our own basic democratic freedoms, but also the freedoms of all South Africans. If those who wish to disagree with Vavi are ‘punished’ for doing so, then where will it all stop? In any event, no autocratic despot in our country is going to dictate to South African Jews what they can and cannot say.”

The attack on Israel this week appeared to be the largest strike from the Gaza Strip, in terms of the number of projectiles fired, since the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

Most of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

2 Comments

  1. 2 Judy Yacov 31 May
    I have just read Rabbi Shmuel Bloch's blog on rebuke, so the immediate reaction I had on reading that Krengel regarded Government Officials as idiots made me cringe.  What better way to ensure that you will not be able to persuade anyone of anything by insulting them, especially as their remarks really are emotional and not fact-based.  I think that avoiding destructive rebuke is one of the most difficult tests of 'tikkun' and requires avoiding the tit-for tat I'll get you back and show you up for a fool, attitude we resort to when we are most offended. It requires the control of a saint, but is well worth it for a result that can bring the sides together to work harmoniously, rather than divide and deepen differences. 
  2. 1 Emyh Salg 06 Jun
    This article really saddens and infuriates me.
    We migrated from South Africa to Australia 32 years ago, and I thank the Almighty on as daily basis for this. 
    I am amazed that members of the SA government & trade unions are so ignorant, biased and racist to make these preposterous statements about Israel, the only true democracy in the entire middle east.
    Without wanting to be rude, It looks like a bunch of first rate mumpara's (an African language term understood by the bulk of the population) are running (ruining) the place.
    The real question is why are educated people with some financial means and with geographical mobility choosing to remain in South Africa?  

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