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Op-eds

Downgrading the SA embassy is akin to a boycott

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After decades of oppression, resistance and stalled attempts to break the apartheid status quo (justifiably defined as a crime against humanity), South Africans finally negotiated an inclusive and constitutional state.
by MILTON SHAIN | Nov 23, 2017

It was dialogue that finally brought about the South African “miracle”. Dozens of clandestine meetings and exchanges through the 1980s had prepared the ground for negotiations. On the brink of a racial conflagration, South Africans discussed their differences and negotiated honestly their visions of a new society. Led by Nelson Mandela, a dialogue and compromise created a non-racial and non-sexist society, with South Africa emerging victorious to the plaudits of a global audience.

South African Jews wish to see a similar dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians as a means of facilitating a resolution of the conflict.

The Jewish community encourages negotiations and believes the South African government can play a constructive role in forging an outcome agreeable to all. Downgrading our contact with Israel, would signal a turn away from dialogue. It would deny any possibility of South Africa playing a role in resolving conflict. Doors should rather be kept open at the widest level.

We believe that intellectual exchange can settle conflict and on the importance of ties between South Africa and Israel. Downgrading these ties will limit communication between the two countries and stifle possibilities for engagement. It will challenge fundamentally the attachment of South African Jews to the Land of Israel, the historic home of the Jewish people.

Jewish cultural, religious and linguistic rights, will thereby be violated, and the interests of tens of thousands of Christians who support Israel, will be overlooked or discounted.

Downgrading the South African embassy in Tel Aviv is akin to a boycott. It erodes practical advantages and measurable benefits for both South Africa and Israel, including trade and technological services. Effective representation is too compromised. A downgrade lays the foundations for conflict rather than helping towards accommodation.

We note that there was not a whisper of downgrading ties with many countries that deny human rights or occupy disputed territory. What about the record of human rights in Arab states or Russia’s occupation of Crimea? Only Israel is targeted.

Identifying only the Jewish State as worthy of downgrading is anti-Semitic in effect if not intentional. Put simply, downgrading ties is a blunt instrument for a complex problem. It suggests all Jews deserve condemnation.

Instead of choosing to downgrade relations with Israel, given its history the ANC government should be in a unique position to further dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and help, rather than hinder, the search for an equitable solution to a festering and so far intractable conflict.

Milton Shain is an Emeritus Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town.

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