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Being South African isn’t such a bad trip

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Travel stories so often involve taxi drivers. And this was no different. I must have been around six years old when my parents returned from a trip abroad. Travel then wasn’t as accessible as it is today, which meant that it was my mother’s first trip to Europe and the United Kingdom. It was exciting and different, and we were enthralled as she recalled her experience of a place so far away. A place we could only imagine.

While I’m sure that the details were plentiful, one thing that stuck in my mind was her admission that they habitually lied to taxi drivers. Not in terms of where they were going – that would have been a bit stupid – but where they had come from. Instead of saying that they were South African, they simply said “Australia” when asked.

Because back then, it wasn’t cool to be South African. Thanks to the National Party and the horrendous apartheid system. Not only did they want to avoid confrontation, something I find a little difficult to believe when it came to my late mother, but because it was difficult to be proud of a country which was behaving as poorly as South Africa was.

Fast forward many years later, and once again, for Jews, there’s tremendous discomfort about being South African. The African National Congress (ANC’s) International Court of Justice case against Israel has pushed the country into the spotlight and made it clear to supporters of Israel that it cares little for the hostages, for victims of Hamas’s terror attack on Israel, and for its sworn intention to do it again, and again, and again.

My recent solidarity mission to Israel, organised by the Jewish National Fund and South African Zionist Federation, highlighted the intensity of the feelings towards South Africa. The sense of hurt is profound. As is the belief that though Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis are acting on behalf of Iran on the military and physical front, South Africa is acting on its behalf on the political one. The term they use is “lawfare” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a legal war against a country.

The sense of betrayal and anger is more intense because fighting a legal battle takes focus away from the physical battlefield, and away from the mission to save the 134 hostages who remain in Gaza in unimaginable conditions. It essentially forces Israel to divert its attention away from one existential crisis to confront another. One of delegitimisation.

The difference between our trip in 2024 and my parents’ one all those years ago is that there’s little point in lying to an Israeli taxi driver. Because they already know everything. And because we had travelled to Israel to express our solidarity and to be there to support our brothers and sisters who needed it. And because there was no way we were going to give that credit to Australia and New Zealand.

But mostly, we didn’t need to lie about our origins because Israelis are smart enough to understand that South African Jews aren’t their government. That we’re equally hurt by the behaviour of the ANC. And that as Jews and supporters of Israel, their pain is ours. And ours is theirs.

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