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The Jewish Report Editorial

SAJR Editorial: The statement Pres Zuma hasn’t made - but should:

  • Sifrin Geoff HOME
"Fellow South Africans: On behalf of the government and the ANC, I want to say to you: There are shocking things happening in the Middle East, in Gaza and Israel. There are protests going on all over the world, some turning violent, between supporters and opponents of Israel and the Palestinians."
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Jul 23, 2014

"What is happening must worry everyone who cares about human rights and dignity. But we must never import into our great country the poison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its hatred and bloodletting. All South Africans - Jewish, Muslim, Christian and others - must know they are safe here and are valued members of our diverse society. We must always strive - as South Africans know so well how to do and as Madiba taught us - to understand the point of view of others, and appreciate the humanity in all of us.

"The Freedom Charter which guided the ANC during the liberation struggle says South Africa belongs to all who live in it; our Constitution makes this even clearer. Belonging means reaching out to other South Africans, despite our differences.

"In the latest confrontation in Gaza, Hamas has fired rockets into Israeli towns, Israel has attacked from the air and now there is a ground invasion of Gaza. The consequences have been shocking. Many innocent civilians have been killed and the killing continues. Despite Israel’s attempts to minimise civilian casualties, unfortunately many people have been killed. But no country can tolerate rockets being fired into its territory onto its civilians.

"Hamas must stop its rockets immediately and undertake not to repeat them. When Israel has received this assurance, it must respond by restoring calm and withdrawing from Gaza. Hamas must stop building new tunnels into Israel, and identify existing ones to a representative of the United Nations, who will monitor them.

"This conflict evokes strong emotions among South Africans from different groups. Muslims and Jews, in particular, find themselves on opposite sides. Many South Africans - black and white – who are completely unfamiliar with the Middle East’s complexities, are being told simplistic things about Jews, Israelis and Muslims that distort the truth. There have been public demonstrations and articles in newspapers in which each side accuses the other of horrendous things.

"The ANC has always been close to the Palestinian fight for independence. During the Struggle, we were comrades. We understand their pain and believe - as Madiba said - that until the Palestinians are free, we are not free either.

"But ANC policy supports the two-state solution, meaning unambiguous recognition of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself, as well as the right of the Palestinians to their own independent state. Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation is an aching wound, demanding a genuine resolution. Israel must reach out sincerely for peace with the Palestinians, make the necessary compromises and recognise their state. And the Palestinians must reciprocate. Calls have been made for South Africa to sever ties with Israel. We will not do that.

"South African Muslims and Jews have traditionally had excellent relations, in our rural towns and cities. Deep friendships have flourished over the years. Both have given, and continue to give, much to the country’s development and prosperity.

"ANC members have recently made unauthorised public statements about Jews and Israelis which have been unwarranted and hurtful. Israel has been called an “apartheid state”. I experienced apartheid first hand, fought it and spent years in jail because of it. Israel is not innocent, but it is not an apartheid regime. There have also been disgraceful statements comparing Israelis with Nazis and others praising Hitler, who murdered six million Jews in Europe.

"Jewish South Africans have told me that that if these lies become accepted as truths among South Africans, Jews will be fearful and uncertain about their belonging here. That would be a tragedy for the whole country.   

"We will tolerate no anti-Semitism here, as has begun to arise in European countries like France. The full force of the law will be used against it. It is unworthy of the legacy of Madiba and of our country’s Constitution, for which so much was sacrificed for so long, by so many. When we betray this ideal, we betray our own past. I have established a special hotline in the police to monitor incidents of anti-Semitism and take appropriate action. It will operate in concert with a representative who will be appointed from the Jewish community.

"Let South Africa be the place where Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis can find each other’s humanity and talk rationally across their differences. Let us demonstrate that there is a way to end this terrible bloodletting in the Holy Land."

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