ANC puts the ‘bill’ into anti-Israel billboard
Virulently anti-Israel organisation Africa4Palestine (A4P) has once again got the ruling party to help foot the bill for an anti-Israel billboard on a busy Johannesburg highway.
Logos for A4P, the African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are proudly displayed under the words “Israeli theft of Palestinian land”. Alongside are maps of a supposedly shrinking Palestine.
“It’s clear that the ANC is searching for issues for which it can find some sort of support base given increasing criticism of the ANC domestically,” says local political analyst Daniel Silke. “This is an example of a fairly desperate style of politics from the ANC – to use billboards for a foreign policy issue that has little resonance in South Africa when the average South African is battling to put food on the table. The ANC should be devoting its attention to urgent domestic matters that can upend its power in 2024.”
As for the graphics on the billboard, Gideon Shimoni, professor emeritus of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert on the history of Zionism, says it’s “a well-known propaganda tool and an insidious falsification, totally devoid of historical context, which violates any rational comprehension of causality. Both the noun ‘theft’ and the adjective ‘Palestinian’ are obtuse distortions of truth and reality. Imagine a series of maps [say in North America or central Europe] displaying changed borders of any territory over historical time, devoid of all historical context and causality, and tendentiously branding the entire process of change ‘theft’.”
An industry insider, speaking anonymously, says the billboard would cost about R18 000 a month. The production cost would be about R3 000 as a once-off. They would probably “walk” the campaign every two weeks [take it off site and shift it to another area after two weeks].
Sara Gon, the head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations, says, “The billboard is the promotion of a trope. This series of maps is riddled with misrepresentations and omissions. The maps have become an iconic feature of Palestinian propaganda for some years and something of an industry, available for purchase, even on tea towels and mugs. Their occasional use by the media has sometimes resulted in a correction or deletion. In a perverse way, they have become a Palestinian propaganda icon. They are visually dramatic while being dishonest and without context.
“The map is propaganda intended to demonise Israel out of existence,” she says. “We know that Africa4Palestine, which is the result of a schism in BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions)-SA, has as its main goal the eradication of the Jewish state. It’s also the first named sponsor of the billboard. What is truly disturbing, however, is that the other three sponsors are the tripartite alliance – the ANC, the SACP, and COSATU. Many statements and actions by these parties, singly or as government, support the Palestinian cause completely. They have shown no interest in hearing the Israeli side of anything that happens between Israel and the Palestinians. Their knowledge of the history of the region is woeful, if not completely absent.
“This is probably the hangover from the ANC’s and SACP’s role as a proxy for the Soviet Union in the Cold War. It would be surprising if they had any knowledge that the claim that ‘Israel is an apartheid state’ was a carefully crafted piece of Soviet propaganda in a programme to demonise Israel, to take attention away from the relentless antisemitism of the Soviet state.
“Members of the alliance would probably argue that they’re acting in their individual capacity and not on behalf of the government. But really, they are the government. These parties are entitled to put up such a billboard as the principle of freedom of speech is important, even if the message is distasteful. However, the response to the billboard is also an exercise in free speech.”
Benji Shulman, South African Zionist Federation director of public policy, says, “The maps aren’t historically accurate and are fundamentally false. They conveniently misrepresent the actual ownership patterns of the land and the multiple wars of aggression led by the surrounding Arab states which led to the current ceasefire lines and borders. Historical fact is being lost to propaganda.
“Africa4Palestine has a pattern of distorting historical truth using billboards among other platforms. Recently, it displayed an image comparing former President Nelson Mandela and Ayatollah Khomeini on a highly disturbing billboard. Comparing Khomeini, a brutal, fundamentalist dictator, with Nelson Mandela, an icon for peace and a world-renowned statesman, is offensive, and has no credibility. While Africa4Palestine is spending money on billboards, Israel is improving the lives of South African citizens.”
Local political analyst Ralph Mathekga says “taking a billboard is a new level. I don’t think the ANC is in a position to tell anyone anything, not at this moment when the party is in tatters.”
The SA Jewish Report approached the ANC, the SACP, A4P, and COSATU for comment. Only COSATU responded. Asked why it had put money into this with so many other pressing needs in the country, COSATU spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said, “We did this for the same reason that poor people from around the world sacrificed their meagre resources to fight apartheid in South Africa. Crimes against humanity demand condemnation from all properly adjusted people.”
Asked what this means for the large majority of South African Jews who are Zionists, and if they still have a place in South Africa, Pamla said, “It means that we disagree with their belief that the Palestinian land belongs to Israel, but they can feel at home here. No one will do any harm to them. We will tell them our views, and they can disagree with us. They can rest assured that in this country, no one will do what the Zionist regime is doing to Palestinians.
“We spend money on the causes that are close to workers’ hearts. We gave R500 000 to flood victims on 1 May, and donated R350 000 worth of goods to Cuban people,” Pamla said. “We don’t have a lot of money, but the little we have is shared with other suffering human beings around the world. We’re wired like that.”
“Questions have to be asked which formation of the ANC approved that particular billboard, and if so, does it have the approval of the national leadership of the ANC, is it a provincial issue, or is it one or other body that provided backing for the billboard,” says Silke. “The ANC hopes that this kind of message will win it support in some quarters, but I think it’s a misplaced and misguided type of messaging that really doesn’t serve the domestic interests of the ANC at all.”