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Here comes a curveball for our leaders

  • Geoff
Pervasive negativity towards Israel in the ANC and elsewhere has meant that South African Jews have long had a hard time defending it in the public domain.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Aug 16, 2018

Much of the negativity is based more on hostile perceptions stoked by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and similar groups, rather than reality. In truth, the standard of living of West Bank Palestinians is higher than in most of the surrounding Arab countries.

However, these hostile groups will be given more fuel later this year when Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi arrives in Johannesburg. She was released last month from an Israeli prison, after an eight-month prison term for incitement and other acts, some of which were filmed and went viral over the internet, creating instant fame for her. Now, fitting neatly into the ANC’s negativity towards Israel, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela has invited Tamimi to South Africa to receive an award.

South African Jews have a vast range of views about Israel’s presence in the Palestinian territories, and it is the cause of much dissent in the community. But all are aware of the problems it creates for Israel.

Some say the territories actually belong to Israel for biblical and other reasons, and it has every right to be there. Others would prefer Israel not to be there, but believe it cannot withdraw for security reasons, lest the West Bank turn into another terrorist-infested Gaza Strip, sending rockets into Israel. Then there are others who believe that Israel’s presence in the West Bank creates so many political problems for it, both in the Jewish world and in its standing internationally, that it must get out for its own survival.

It’s easy at home around a Shabbos table in Johannesburg to bemoan the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its implications for every side. But when Tamimi comes here, the national media may well seize the opportunity and have a field day. South African Jews must be prepared for another blow in the press. How will they respond? Ignoring it will not suffice. Undoubtedly there will be distortions and spectacular exaggerations by the press and hostile groups, as there always are. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fertile territory for this kind of thing.

Nevertheless, when Jewish leaders are asked to go on radio and support Israel unreservedly, what will they do? The consequences of Israel’s actions are less severe for Israel, which is firmly in control, than they are for South African Jewry, which is subject to pressures which are difficult to handle. And, while support for Israel remains strong among South African Jews, Israel’s nature has changed so much in recent years, it is no longer clear what kind of Israel they support, as it was previously.

It has been clear for a long time that Israel is veering to the right, which puts many diaspora supporters in a tight spot, whatever their political leanings. There undoubtedly continues to be a threat to its existence from the Arab world, and an intense security focus is necessary for it to survive. No matter how much the contexts differ, however, groups hostile to Israel in this country will attempt to use South African history to make comparisons between black youngsters of 1976 Soweto, and Palestinian youngsters of 2018 in Gaza – whether this comparison is valid or not.

Ultimately, many Jews believe that as long as Israel remains in the Palestinian territories, there will be more Ahed Tamimis, and no end to its struggle to defend itself. South African Jews have little influence over Israeli policy, but it is necessary for them to have a serious discussion about how Israel’s policies affect them.

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