Anti-Israel groups try to remove top ambassador
BAYING FOR BLOOD: SA Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane (pictured), made a contextual – and rather innocuous – remark about three young Israeli boys killed by Hamas in 2014 and so incensed anti-Israel groups in South Africa, that they are baying for his blood. His head may yet roll – however unfairly, as he seems to have walked into what increasingly looks to have been a carefully laid trap…
Ngombane arrived in the country accompanying “flotilla activist” Leigh-Ann Naidoo, who had been released after a fleeting detention in Israel, when the group’s publicity stunt to “break the Gaza embargo” did not succeed. Ngombane had facilitated her release and accompanied her back.
The ensuing media coverage may leave SA Jewry emerging from their Sukkot media-hiatus confused by headlines relating to Ambassador Ngombane’s remarks.
A perfect storm of events played into the hands of anti-Israel groups and media over the past five days and has led to what may well result in yet another embarrassment for the South African government in its diplomatic relations with Israel, unless carefully managed.
Ten days ago, in ‘Don’t bulldoze me’ Sisa tells anti-Israel activists, Jewish Report showed a video and reported on Ngombane’s address at a media conference at OR Tambo Airport after securing the release of, and escorting, Naidoo home.
ACDP member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) Cheryllyn Dudley says that “sadly he https://www.sajr.co.za/images/default-source/default-album/state-capture-bds-notice.jpg” class=”sfImageWrapper”>Unable to attend in person, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane delegated her deputy, Luwellyn Landers, to attend.
LEFT: A widely-circulated BDS-SA media release doctored to look like it came from Parliament
This left the committee disappointed that the minister was unable to attend in person, and a passionately pro-Palestinian deputy minister was thrust into the debate.
On top of it, the meeting over-ran its scheduled time, says Dudley. Dirco officials missed flights and everyone was in a rush to end the day – with the item on the two ambassadors’ issues not yet dealt with.
And so, after a quick briefing and not too much debate, it was agreed that the chairman of the committee, MP Siphosezwe Masango, would “call upon the minister… to investigate the veracity of the allegations reported in the media against SA’s ambassadors to Singapore and Israel”.
Again, this was like a red rag to a bull for the anti-Israel lobby who immediately started bombarding the media again.
- “Women’s Boat to Gaza (WBTG) applauds call to probe… Ngombane and demands recall” – wrote MRN;
- “Parliament calls for action against Ambassador to Israel” – claimed BDS-SA incorrectly in a media release seemingly disguised to appear as if it came from Parliament; and
- “SA ambassador to Israel should be recalled – deputy minister” – News24.
Landers informed only by BDS complaint
While News24 quoted Landers as saying “the department had not made an official decision yet on Ngombane, but that his personal view was that he should be recalled as an ambassador”, he admitted that his understanding of the issue had been informed purely by “a complaint received from Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS)… saying Ngombane had defied government policy on the Israel/Palestine conflict”.
Despite this, and the fact that Committee Chairman Masango had merely asked the minister to “investigate the veracity of the allegations reported in the media”, Landers said he would try and persuade Minister Nkoana-Mashabane that Ngombane should no longer represent the government of South Africa.
As reported by JR Online in “BDS bullying knows no limits”, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies’ National Director Wendy Kahn wrote: “It was with a sense of déjà vu that the SAJBD witnessed SA Ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, being shouted down and abused when trying to speak at a press conference. Those bent on demonising Israel at every opportunity cannot bear it when others presume to present a different narrative.”
How could this all happen?
The background material leading up to and post last week’s meetings pall into insignificance when seen alongside what followed – which will be reported on once it has played out fully in Parliament today. It is a story of deception and even State Capture by anti-Semitic forces within South Africa.
Parliament, Friday, October 21, 2016 – The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Co-operation, Mr Siphosezwe Masango, has called upon the Minister Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane to investigate the veracity of the allegations reported in the media against South Africa’s ambassadors to Singapore and Israel.
The Committee received a briefing from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation on, among other things, allegations reported in the media against South Africa’s High Commissioner to Singapore, Ms Houley Ngubeni, and the Ambassador to Israel, Mr Sisa Ngombane.
Mr Masango said it was important that the record of those who represent South Africa abroad is above reproach. “South Africa’s image should not be compromised by the same people we send abroad to promote our country. We hope that the Minister will take appropriate corrective actions should the allegations be true,” Mr Masango said.
The Committee has been informed that Ms Ngubeni’s security clearance certificate has been withdrawn.
The Committee further calls upon the Minister to establish whether Mr Ngombane’s reported pronouncements are in conflict with policy on Israel and Palestine.
The justification for reason by Cheryllyn Dudley to Minister:
“While the ACDP appreciates the department’s willingness to respond to accusations regarding diplomats’ behaviour and performance, I would personally like to ask you to please consider the following,” Dudley wrote to Nkoana-Mashabane, adding that:
- It is the goal of activists to create situations that draw attention to their cause,
- Activists are known to stretch the truth and to relate only one side of a story to keep the focus on their cause,
- Activists do not visit countries they want to discredit for peaceful purposes – they do so for the purpose of creating negative attention,
- Anti-Israel activists are not as angry with the Ambassador as they are with South Africa for having an Ambassador in Israel,
- Activists would not want the help of the Ambassador to Israel but would want an opportunity to embarrass him in an attempt to embarrass South Africa and the government that sent him,
- Activists use bullying tactics – they are not reasonable and do not want solutions – they want to prove their point and are prepared to sacrifice all (including Dirco and this administration) for their cause, and
- Negotiated peace and a way forward have no place in their agenda to impose a narrow view.
“Most of us know the Ambassador to be a man – not only loyal to his country and the government that sent him, but personally supportive of Palestinian freedoms,” said Dudley of the Struggle stalwart.
ANC Ambassador to the EU
“He (Ngombane) also, however, seems to be a man of principle – a man who is not prepared to have words put in his mouth or to distort facts. Sadly, he did not realise the trap he had walked in to – if he had he would surely have left without trying to finish his statement. My guess is that he was concerned that if he did not finish his statement his words would be twisted to mean something other than what he was saying – an effective tactic used by activists.”
Don’t let the facts get in the way of advocacy
South Africa has always maintained ties with Israel. Then-President Nelson Mandela expanded the presence to two separate embassies, to Israel in Tel Aviv and to Palestine in Ramallah.
During Ngombane’s term, trade between the two countries has grown exponentially – with South Africa getting a larger surplus and not only saving existing South African jobs, but Israeli firms have opened factories in South Africa and created good jobs here.
“Government is fully conscious that they would be cutting off their noses to spite their face,” says Dudley, because maintaining relations with Israel offers the country the opportunity to assist in the peace process.
South Africa is the benefactor of many services provided by Israel as well, says Dudley. She says that when she first watched “that video clip“ she saw the ambassador essentially being “hoodwinked” – it was a trick, she says, “he would have thought he was walking into friendly territory”. However, she does not believe he blamed the Palestinians for the Gaza incursion of 2014.
Asked whether Deputy Minister Landers was quoted correctly by News24, Dudley told JR Online that he was clear that he was speaking for himself. “Fortunately there will be an investigation into the matter,” she says. Landers had confirmed that to her personally.
Landers, she says, has gained the respect of many non-ANC members of Parliament and he makes no secret that he “passionately supports BDS”. Dudley says that she believes the anti-Israel lobby is being misdirected towards the ambassador. “The anger at President Zuma and Dirco in general,” she says, “for having an Ambassador in Israel at all.”
Is there a Government travel ban to Israel as BDS and others have claimed this past week? No, says SA Zionist Federation Chairman Ben Swartz. The ANC has made such assertions (that there is a travel ban); even President Zuma in his capacity as chairman of the ANC has said so. But the ANC is not the government. Dudley agrees: “There is definitely no travel ban from the SA Government to Israel.” She says she has heard people mention it, but as the ANC caucus – not as the SA Government.
Having sat on the committee for longer than Jacob Zuma has occupied the Presidency, Dudley is certainly is no slouch when it comes to South Africa’s foreign policy. And, in representing the only openly pro-Israel party, The African Christian Democratic Party in Parliament, she is a close observer of SA/Israeli affairs.
“South Africa’s foreign policy is very wisely one of refusing to set itself up as the policeman of the world,” she told JR Online. She says if SA had to do this, “we may find ourselves having to cut ties with China, the US, etc. Our experience was in finding each other and we see our role internationally in the same way.
“As important it is for SA to keep relations with all parties, we do not see any solution in a situation where one country would wish to annihilate another,” said Dudley.
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Helen Mirren to play Golda Meir in upcoming film
(JTA) Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.
Production Golda will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled Lioness led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of Unorthodox fame.
While Lioness will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel, and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister”, according to a report in Deadline, Golda will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period.
Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian, and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict – chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production Valley of Tears on HBO Max – shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region.
Golda will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for Skin, a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.
“As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I’m honoured to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv said. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgement.
“I couldn’t be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional, and complex story to life.”
Bibi or not Bibi – is there even a question?
“Citizens of Israel – thank you!” wrote Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Hebrew on Twitter shortly after Israeli polls closed on Tuesday night, 23 March.
A few hours later, a delighted crowd welcomed him at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem. “Bibi, Bibi!” they shouted, filling a large hall with balloons, banners, and Likud COVID-19 masks.
But the excitement might be misplaced and premature at best.
As the hours ticked into Wednesday morning, the exit polls started changing their initial predictions. Only on Friday afternoon will the final tally be known.
What won’t alter is the fact that the prime minister’s Likud party won the most parliament seats by a large margin. President Reuven Rivlin will therefore task him first with forming a government. But then it gets tricky.
At the time of writing (at midday on Wednesday) exit polls predicted Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc fell short of the 61 seats it needed to secure a majority coalition. The kingmaker could well be the prime minister’s former ally and defence minister, Naftali Bennett. His Yamina (Rightwards) party won at least seven seats, and although Bennett avoided explicitly declaring who he would support, it’s widely expected he’ll join Netanyahu. In return, he’ll exact a high price in terms of ministerial positions and other powerful appointments.
This would bring Netanyahu closer than ever to a narrow government that would include the most extreme elements of Israeli society. Exit polls showed the Religious Zionist Party, that includes far-right and homophobic elements with roots in the overtly racist Kahanist party, receiving enough votes to enter parliament.
Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute, warned that such a coalition could back Netanyahu’s attempts to find a political solution to his legal troubles. “In this case, it will be imperative that elected leaders from across the political spectrum, civil society organisations, and all those who advocate on behalf of a vibrant Israeli democracy, make it emphatically clear that the results of this election don’t constitute a license to promote radical proposals aimed at eroding the legal system and curtailing the rule of law. The health and vitality of Israel’s democratic system could hang in the balance,” he said.
Meanwhile opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid (There Is a Future), said he, too, would try to build a coalition to “create a sane government for Israel”.
Speaking early on Wednesday morning, he declared, “At the moment, Netanyahu doesn’t have 61 seats but the change bloc does. We’ll wait for the final results but as it stands, there won’t be a government based on the votes of the racists and homophobes.”
The anti-Netanyahu bloc is far from a homogenous group, consisting of left, right, and centrist factions. They have fewer options in forming a coalition than Netanyahu. Should neither side succeed, it will be back to the polls for Israelis – the fifth election in two years.
Which in part explains why Tuesday’s turnout was the lowest since 2013. Voter fatigue and apathy are starting to sour even the most ardent supporters of Israeli democracy.
The lack of enthusiasm was most noticeable in the Arab community. Many residents confessed they had lost confidence in their representatives and the two main Arab blocs – the Joint List and the breakaway United Arab List (Ra’am), headed by Mansour Abbas – warned of a “disaster” due to the low turnout.
In the 2015 election, the Joint List became the third-largest party in parliament after it won 13 seats. In the 2020 election, it increased to 15, remaining the third-largest party until Yesh Atid split off from Blue and White to lead the opposition.
Earlier this year, Abbas quit the Joint List, indicating his willingness to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu. And the prime minister welcomed him. Whereas in the past Netanyahu “incited” against the Arabs, this time around, he changed his strategy and appealed to Arab-Israelis to vote for him.
He paid rare visits earlier this year to Arab cities in the north of the country purportedly to encourage citizens to get coronavirus vaccinations, but many were suspicious that he was taking advantage of the rift within the alliance of Arab parties.
Netanyahu appeals to some Arab voters because they believe he can make things happen. He’s also promised to focus on the growing violence and crime in the Arab community, economic issues, and the recent normalisation of Israel’s relations with several Arab countries.
As in the previous three rounds, this election was largely seen as a referendum on the tenure of Netanyahu. Personality politics has so overtaken the race that there has been almost no mention of the Palestinians after years of frozen peace talks.
The day before the vote, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh described the election as an “internal” matter for Israelis, but decried the effect on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
Netanyahu used these elections to once again portray himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead Israel through its many security and diplomatic challenges.
But unlike the previous election held last March, he didn’t have the support of former American President Donald Trump smiling alongside him in campaign posters. Instead, Netanyahu made Israel’s coronavirus-vaccination campaign the centrepiece of his re-election bid, repeatedly stressing that he was personally responsible for Israel’s impressively fast rollout.
Only a few short months ago, it seemed that COVID-19 would kill his chances of winning another election, and his critics still accuse him of bungling the management of the pandemic for most of the past year. But most Israelis appreciate his efforts.
This was the first election held in the throes of the pandemic, and five thousand additional polling stations were set up to deal with the situation. Workers in hazmat suits collected ballots in hospital wards while buses were parked outside some polling stations to serve as remote ballot drops for coronavirus-positive or quarantined voters.
As things stand now, it’s unclear if four rounds of elections have resolved the longest political crisis in Israel’s history. The country remains as divided as it has been over the past two years.
Israelis assists Eswatini with vaccine rollout
The success of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine programme may seem like a far-away reality, but it’s actually much closer to home – over the border in fact. An Israel-based non-governmental organisation is working feverishly to assist Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to build its COVID-19 response, including vaccine rollout, logistics, and public education.
The tiny landlocked nation has been hit hard by the pandemic, symbolised for many in the demise of Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini four weeks after he contracted the virus. Now IsraAID, the largest humanitarian aid organisation in Israel, is helping it to pick up the pieces and turn its story around.
From earthquakes and hurricanes to epidemics and forced displacement, IsraAID has been at the forefront of responding to major humanitarian crises worldwide since 2001. It has worked in more than 50 countries and at any one time, has about 300 staff members worldwide.
A seven-member team from IsraAID landed in Eswatini on 8 March 2021 for a two-week visit. They were invited by the government, which has vaccines in the pipeline, and wants help with logistics and public education ahead of the rollout. The mission is being funded by South Africa-based Nathan “Natie” Kirsh, a citizen of Eswatini.
The global chief executive of the Kirsh Foundation, Carly Maisel, told the SA Jewish Report that Eswatini’s COVID-19 case load and death count probably exceeded reported numbers. “The country has the highest COVID-19 death rate in Africa, and the highest HIV prevalence in the world. With just more than one million people, nearly 60% of whom live under the national poverty line, it would be easy for Eswatini to be left behind in the global vaccination race.”
Speaking from Eswatini, Molly Bernstein, IsraAID’s development and communications manager, says, “We made it here on one of the first flights following Ben Gurion Airport’s reopening last Sunday. We arrived with experts who can give insight into the main aspects needed to implement a vaccination campaign of this kind: an operations expert; a psychosocial support expert; our medical sector lead and public health nurse; an epidemiologist and physician who specialises in vaccines; our head of global programmes; and a communications and public-outreach lead.
“Since the start of the pandemic, IsraAID has been working non-stop,” she says. “We have responded to COVID-19 in 17 countries worldwide. We aim to use the models we develop in Eswatini to inform further vaccination campaigns around the world, specifically in the global south, through a new Global Vaccine Access initiative. IsraAID has longstanding expertise in public health, emergency medical care, and mental health capacity building. We will utilise the know-how developed during Israel’s successful vaccination rollout to inform its planning in Eswatini, from here moving to other potential locations.
“This visit is an assessment mission to understand the capacity, assets, and needs on the ground, and identify how we can best support these aspects moving forward,” says Bernstein. “We’re working with the government to put together a plan.”
Because the country has been hit so hard, Bernstein says that a crucial component of its work will be to focus on mental health and resilience, particularly in regard to the country’s frontline health workers.
“In order to build an effective public health response, we have to think holistically and prioritise the needs of local communities. We are meeting many inspiring people here on the ground who want to work hard to help Eswatini push forward with vaccinations to decrease the day-to-day impact of the pandemic,” she says.
“The people of Eswatini, including community leaders, government officials, and everyone we’ve met, have been extremely warm and welcoming. They are excited about learning about the vaccination experience in Israel and working together as the rollout launches here in Eswatini.”
Maisel says that the Kirsh Foundation wanted to play a role because it believes that “successfully overcoming the pandemic will be possible only once there is equitable access and widespread adoption of vaccines across all nations”. The Kirsh family has responded to COVID-19 around the globe, particularly in Southern Africa, through food relief, unemployment support, medical equipment, and bridge-loan funding.
In addition, “Mr Kirsh’s roots are firmly in Eswatini, the place he calls home, and his legacy of philanthropy there is extensive,” Maisel says. “Eswatini is the country where he founded his entry into business and where he raised his family. It will forever be an integral part of his identity. Watching the country ravaged by COVID-19 has been heartbreaking for him and the Kirsh family.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Kirsh Foundation has responded to short-term needs such as PPE [personal protective equipment] and food relief [in Eswatini],” says Maisel. “Additionally, the foundation has been examining how it can support the country over the long term, such as by sponsoring local oxygen capabilities.
“Now, we have partnered with IsraAID to help the nation and frontline health workers prepare for vaccine distribution and a potential third wave of the virus. Mr Kirsh speaks to the IsraAID team via video calls, and he has told them that they will have a universal effect on the country.”
IsraAID Chief Executive Yotam Polizer told the SA Jewish Report, “It’s ground breaking because there are few initiatives to support the global south during COVID-19, specifically with vaccination campaigns. It’s also ground breaking because it’s the first time that an Israeli organisation is using the expertise developed in Israel as part of its vaccination campaign, and is bringing this know-how to some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.”
The Kirsh Foundation has been a longstanding supporter of IsraAID’s world-renowned global initiatives. “Bringing together the two countries central to Mr Kirsh’s philanthropic vision was a ‘no brainer’ in this case,” says Maisel.
“IsraAID has become synonymous with rapid response to humanitarian crises around the world. We know that it’s up to the daunting task of preparing for a national vaccine rollout, not just because of its proven ability to deliver on its mission, but because of the unique insights it will bring from the unparalleled success of Israel’s vaccination campaign.
“We hope IsraAID will be able to leverage its experience in Eswatini to roll out its global vaccine initiative throughout the rest of Africa, where many countries are in need of its logistical and medical insight,” she says.
Asked if the organisation would carry out a similar mission in South Africa, Polizer says, “Our goal at IsraAID is to support the most vulnerable, regardless of politics. We’ve worked in countries that didn’t even have diplomatic relations with Israel, and we would be happy to support communities affected in South Africa in the future. We believe that through long-term humanitarian work, we can build bridges between people and countries. We would also love to discuss opportunities to partner with individuals and institutions in the South African Jewish community in the future. COVID-19 won’t be over for us, here [in Israel], until it is over for everyone, everywhere.”
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