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The battle between the Doves and the Hawks

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I was in Israel when I heard the phenomenal news that the South African Ambassador to Israel was going back to resume his duties. That was word from South Africa. When I mentioned it to the Israelis I knew, they seemed bemused, but for the most part they thought that that the embassy was already closed. For that matter, they also thought that the Israeli embassy in South Africa was closed, and that their ambassador was back home.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Oct 11, 2018

So, while I was thrilled, the truth is that it means very little to Israelis whether they have political ties with South Africa.

All they seem to know of South Africa is that things aren’t great here – especially for Jews. This is what a number of people – sometimes perfect strangers – told me when they heard where I was from.

But then, the news about South African Ambassador Sisa Ngombane got really blurry when I then heard that the Department of International Affairs and Co-operation had denied that he was resuming his ambassadorial work, citing some story that he had personal issues to deal with. Really! You can read the full story on our front page this week, but this is what I believe is the back story:

My sense is that the governing party is divided into two very disparate sides, one that sees that Israel is not as bad as Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) makes it out to be. It also recognises the importance of a relationship with Israel, and its very supportive partner, the United States. It acknowledges what it can do in trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East. It knows that if it is proactive and open to seeing both sides, it can have a positive impact on a difficult situation.

This side is made up of the people in government I like to call the Doves because they see peace and prosperity as the solution, and are willing to do what they can to get there. They are open minded, and are aware that they will always have a historic relationship with the Palestinians because of how they helped each other during apartheid years, but that there are always two sides to every story. They want to help create a two-state solution.

Then there are the Hawks. They are strongly influenced by BDS. They have met and are acquainted with Palestinian radicals from Hamas – even perhaps Hezbollah. In fact, they invited and welcomed Hamas officials to the ANC’s national conference at the end of last year, when Cyril Ramaphosa was elected leader of the party. They hear the organisation’s stories, and believe them. They have not spent time getting acquainted with both sides of the story, nor are they interested. They seem quite happy to go with what they are told.

It is this side of the ANC that put pressure on the Jewish community to condemn Israeli activity on the Gaza border back in May. It is this side of the governing party that on a number of occasions this year made public statements insisting that Israel pull out of Gaza. These Hawks are clearly misinformed about integral and very public information that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 – 13 years ago. They clearly don’t care that Israel did this, nor that it was done in the hope of benefitting a peace effort. Clearly, this side of the ANC doesn’t believe it necessary to check the facts and do its own research.

So, I believe the Doves sent Ngombane back to Israel. Perhaps he has personal issues back there, but I do believe he was sent back to do his job. They knew it was controversial, so they kept it quiet.

When the Hawks and BDS discovered this, they pulled out all the stops to change it.

They didn’t seem perturbed that the government would look foolish, which it does, at backtracking and causing confusion. No, they were determined that under no circumstances would the South African government have any relationship with Israel. For the Hawks, it is irrelevant what the facts are, and why it is important to send him back. They are interested only in destroying any relationship between South Africa and Israel. It is ugly and unfair, and clearly they are so strong, the Doves have had to take a step back… for now.

My sense is there is such confusion around this, even Ngombane is unsure what to do. He is in Israel, but not at the embassy. While the embassy should be able to operate without him, it isn’t. No-one answers phones, responds to emails, and apparently you are lucky to find anyone there. Confusion? I would say so!

While I believe there are a number of wilful Doves, some in top government positions, they don’t seem to be exerting enough power to ensure that they do the right thing. Clearly the bullying BDS-ers are making life very difficult for them, using the historic connection with Palestinians as the trump card.

The next few weeks are vital, and we will see who triumphs in this battle. My worry, though, is that if the Hawks win, as South African Jews we will not be left in a good situation. You see, as I have said before, South African Jews and South Africa in general will be the losers in the battle if Israel and South Africa’s ties are broken. Not Israel, that’s for sure, it barely notices one way or the another.

South Africa can gain only by having a relationship with Israel on technological, trade, and even political levels, and my guess is that the Doves realise this. However, it may be too late after the Hawks destroy the relationship.

From this point, I send out a dove of peace with a message to the government to do the right thing, and let Sisa Ngombane resume his duties.

Shabbat Shalom!

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