Could the ANC start excluding Jews who support Israel?
“Should South Africans be tolerant of Zionists is a question we have yet to answer as a society because some could equate them with South Africans who still fly the old South African flag.”
These are the words of ANC Western Cape caucus coordinator Wesley Seale. He wrote to the SA Jewish Report after the newspaper covered how the ANC questioned the hosting of a Jewish community event at the residence of Western Cape Premier Alan Winde.
It is a fact that most Jews in South Africa are Zionist, but the ANC simply doesn’t seem to acknowledge or accept this. The term ‘Zionist’ is known to refer to people who support the maintenance of an independent Jewish State, which refers to most Jews around the world.
“The demonising of Zionists could result in the marginalising of Jews who are Zionist or even of Jews irrespective of whether they are Zionist or not,” says the Institute of Race Relations’ Sara Gon.
The ANC’s confusion around how it sees Jews was also clear in the rest of Seale’s comments. In the same breath, he says: “The ANC would never take aim at the Jewish community and we have a long history fighting for the rights of Jewish people in South Africa. We deplore any form of discrimination and especially towards a community that has among its members great luminaries who fought against apartheid. However, apartheid is also what is happening in Israel. The ANC firmly believes in the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination in their homeland.
“We clearly took aim at the premier’s Zionist friends,” he adds. “We did not question the hosting of the event based on the fact that it is a Jewish event. We asked the question based on the fact that the DSCF [David Susman Community Foundation] has as its description displaying ‘unwavering commitment to Israel’.
“We do not object to Jewish events being held at Leeuwenhof, but we would object to a state residence, belonging to all the people of the Western Cape, being used for Zionist purposes and, in particular, to raise funds for the apartheid Zionist state of Israel.
“The ANC has and will always fight for all people to have a place in our country,” he says. “If we are to struggle against antisemitism and discrimination of any sort, we must fight fear and ignorance. We must not tolerate discrimination and prejudice towards anyone within our society.”
While the links between Judaism and Zionism are part of daily Jewish life, the ANC seems insistent on seeing them as separate. “Research has shown us over many years that 90% at least of the Jewish community have a strong belief in Zionism,” says Member of Parliament Michael Bagraim. “Secondly, our daily prayers refer to Zion. Thirdly, Jewish history and our teachings strongly refer to the Promised Land of Israel. Zionism and the religion are strongly connected. I believe that the issue of Zionism and the Jewish community is becoming more and more of a wedge issue.”
Antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town Milton Shain agrees. “There can be no doubt that an overwhelming majority of South African Jews are Zionist, with surveys showing over half of South African Jews feeling a strong attachment to the Jewish state and another third a moderate attachment. Almost four in five Jews have visited Israel at least once, as opposed to about a third of American Jews. This is not to say all Jews in South Africa support all Israeli policies. And of course, from the early 20th century, there have been those opposed to the idea of a Jewish State.”
There is no doubt that the ANC’s conflicting statements reflect the unstable approach that the ruling party has to a community that has always been inherently Zionist. On 18 July, the Daily Maverick reported that the ANC could review the party’s 2017 decision to downgrade the South African embassy in Tel Aviv.
Newly elected SA Communist Party general secretary Solly Mapaila says his party wants to go further “by urging the ANC to resolve to push the South African government to close down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria as well”. The head of the ANC’s subcommittee on international relations, Lindiwe Zulu, echoed these sentiments.
Where does this leave a strongly Zionist Jewish community?
“The ANC has been very explicit in describing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’,” notes advocate Mark Oppenheimer. “It will marginalise not only Jews who view themselves as Zionists, but anyone that sees themselves as a supporter of Israel. They’ve already proven themselves as doing so with Miss South Africa. They strongly encouraged her to withdraw from the contest in Israel. She defied them. But the ANC has not been chastened by this, and continues to target activities that it views as being pro-Zionist.
“It is true that the majority of Jews are Zionists. The Constitutional Court in the matter of Masuku recognised this fact: that when Bongani Masuku targeted Zionists to suffer harm, the court recognised that that’s really coded language for Jews. And so, when the ANC targets the hosting of an event at Leeuwenhof for a Jewish organisation that happens to support Israel, it of course has antisemitic undertones.
“But it must also be remembered that South Africa doesn’t just protect people’s religions, it protects their political ideas as well,” he continues. “Undermining people’s belief in Zionism is itself a threat on the grounds of people’s rights to freedom and belief. Zionists appear to be one of the only groups that are actively targeted by the ANC.”
Regarding Seale’s comment about the Israeli flag, Oppenheimer says, “The Equality Court has declared that displays of the 1927 South African flag constitute hate speech. The matter is currently before the Supreme Court of Appeal. If it is the case that through the judicial process it is determined that that flag amounts to hate speech and is banned, then there remains the possibility that this will be used as a precedent to ban other symbols that are viewed as connected to apartheid. And given the ANC’s continual moves to draw comparisons between Israel and apartheid, there remains the strong possibility that it will seek to ban displays of the Israeli flag.”
Says Gon, “There has been talk of making the public display of the Israeli flag illegal. This would be a truly slippery slope in societal freedoms as a legitimate member of the world community has its national symbol effectively declared hate speech. The ramifications of this would be wide and ominous.”
Shain adds: “It needs to be said that accepting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem effectively makes one a Zionist – that is, accepting of the idea of a state for the Jews. The ANC [which formally supports a two-state solution] is therefore Zionist. It may disagree with policies of the Jewish state, but accepting Israel alongside a Palestinian state makes one a Zionist.
“As citizens in South Africa, Jews have every right to support Israel,” says Shain. “The country is a fully-fledged member of the international community. Premier Winde has no need to apologise to anyone for hosting the event. Those invited are entitled to support the Jewish state in whatever way they choose. Or is the ANC thinking of doing an ideological ‘pencil test for fundraising events?” he asks rhetorically.
“The ANC is desperate to get more votes in the Western Cape,” says Bagraim. “There is also a very strong radical group of people controlling the ANC. The antisemitism, which was disguised in the past, is now rearing its ugly head.”