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DIRCO positive on SA/Israel trade & relations





Hundreds of friends of Israel attended the annual function to celebrate the country’s 66th birthday at the Embassy on Tuesday. There was a real party atmosphere and the hospitality was enjoyed by all.

But, as reported by SAJR’s Pretoria correspondent DIANE WOLFSON in SA berates Israel for stalled ME peace on this website, many among the guests were offended when the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s chief director Middle East, Themba Rubushe, took the opportunity to lay all the blame on the stalled peace talks at Israel’s door.

To be fair, Rubeshe also spoke highly of SA Jewry’s efforts during the Struggle, and of the growing ties between SA and Israel.

A source in the Israeli embassy told SAJR that they do not read any change regarding South Africa’s policy towards Israel into the speech.

SAJR Online decided to publish Themba Rubushe’s speech in its entirety to allow readers to make up their own minds and to join the conversation on this topic by commenting below the story.

Rubushe’s speech in its entirety, MAY 27 2014

Your Excellency, Amb Lenk, Excellencies and High Commissioners , Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the media , Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed an honour to be part of this 66thcelebration of the remembrance of the Israeli National Day of Independence.

Please accept, Ambassador Lenk, on behalf of the Government and the people of South Africa, our best wishes on this occasion.

On an occasion like this, it lends itself to reflect on the relations between our two countries.

Israel established a Consulate General in South Africa in 1949 that was upgraded to an Embassy in 1974. In return, South Africa established it’s Consulate General in Tel Aviv in 1972, which later was upgraded to an Embassy in 1975. Therefore, the interaction between South Africa and Israel started many years ago.

It is important to take note that though our two countries have enjoyed bilateral relations for many years, South Africa’s relations with the Jewish community dates back even longer, to a time when many Jewish people came to South Africa from Eastern Europe and various other parts of the globe in their flight to escape oppression and persecution.

Jewish immigrants contributed significantly to SA

Many of these Jewish immigrants became prominent South Africans and have, in many ways, contributed significantly to the development of South Africa as a country.

Yom haazmaut EmbassyIt is with great reverence that I would like to remind you of the many South Africans of Jewish origin that took part in the anti-apartheid liberation struggle. I would like to honour their legacy on a day like this. The names of Eli Weinberg, Joe Slovo, and Dennis Goldberg come to mind.

LEFT: This telling image of Ambassador Arthur Lenk and Chief Director Themba Rubushe directly after the latter’s speech tells a thousand words on the mood between the two

South Africa’s diplomatic relations with Israel have spanned many decades and seen many changes taking place in both our vibrant societies.

Yet we remain preoccupied with the developments in the region, especially the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for the following reasons:

  • South Africa was one of the countries that voted in the League of Nations for the Resolution that created the Jewish state in Palestine.
  • A significant Jewish minority estimated at 70 000 citizens calls South Africa home.
  • 25 000 South Africans of Jewish decent made Aliya to Israel, and most of them still have close family and cultural ties with South Africa.
  • South Africa is also home to a significant Muslim community who are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian population,
  • And coming from our own struggle for liberation and freedom, South Africa supports the quest for Palestinian self-determination to live in peace side by side with the State of Israel.

The South African Government has always considered it important to continue engaging with Israel, particularly with regard to advancing the currently stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. My country remains convinced that serious negotiations are the only way to advance the peace process.

If the current stalled peace process is not reconstituted and increased settlement construction continues unabated, we can all expect escalation in violence and continued suffering for the peoples of Israel and Palestine. Both peoples have suffered tremendous loss of lives, lives that are forever gone.

Therefore, South Africa will continue to follow the developments and the ongoing debates and actions around the Peace Process, with the hope that a reignited process will lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian State, existing side by side, in peace, with Israel.

Nothing will be resolved until everything is resolved

It is important to remember that when the current round of negotiations commenced in July 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced, on behalf of the parties, that the process would culminate in a final, rather than an interim, resolution on all the final status issues. He further declared that “nothing would be resolved until everything was resolved.”

However, during the month of March 2014, Israel refused to submit to a long outstanding agreement of the release of the last group of 26 Palestinian prisoners and instead chose to trade the release of prisoners for the extension of peace talks beyond 29 April 2014. That, together with settlement expansion, brought the peace talks to a deadlock. In response, on 1 April 2014, the Palestinian President signed documents applying for membership to 15 United Nations agencies.

South Africa remains hopeful that both parties will see reason, and commit to negotiations, and thus South Africa supports all international efforts aimed at brokering a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South Africa has publicly declared this support at multilateral fora such as the United Nations, the African Union, the Non Aligned Movement, BRICS, NAASP and IBSA, requesting the parties to the conflict to negotiate in good faith. South Africa would like to urge the United States of America, as the facilitator of the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations to double its efforts to ensure the continuation of the negotiations. 

Trade and Tourism on the rise

Moving back to bilateral relations, it is noteworthy that trade between Israel and South Africa remains on a sound footing. Trade figures for 2013 indicate that Israel is one of South Africa’s three biggest trading partners in the Middle East. It is particularly important to note that tourism from Israel to South Africa is the highest in the Middle East and it is hoped that this area of cooperation will continue to expand in the years to come.

Israel is also involved in many agricultural and humanitarian projects in South Africa. These valuable projects, that constitute people to people cooperation, are much needed and also complementary to the objectives of our own National Development Programme.

It is unfortunate that the planned meeting of the Directors-General Forum that should have taken place in December 2013 in Israel did not take place following the passing away of our beloved former President Nelson Mandela. However, we remain committed to undertake the said meeting in the months to follow, since it will grant us an important opportunity to take stock of our relations.

On a day such as this, it also behoves one to reflect on issues currently having an impact not only on Israel, but also on the developments which affect that country and its region.  Current developments in the Middle East region, and further afield, occupy much of our attention at present. Let me preface our reflection on these developments with the reminder that South Africa’s positions can never be divorced from its own history and its quest for freedom and justice. 

In this context, the stalled peace process negotiations in your part of the region, remains a cause for serious concern. South Africa urges both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to return to the negotiating table in order to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict in the Middle East. We believe that the Israeli Government is currently faced with a unique opportunity to re-engage in negotiations with the Palestinians in order to find a lasting peace agreement.

Speaking as friends…

As friends, we also wish to raise our concern with regard to the continued construction of settlements and the establishment of new ones on the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

Dear Israeli friends, these actions are not conducive for meaningful negotiations, because they predetermine a set of facts that, in the long run, cannot guarantee peace and security for anyone, including Israel.

South Africa wishes to see an Israel and Palestine that are both secure and within which both nations can thrive and realise their full potential, which includes living in peace with themselves and with their neighbours.

May I therefore conclude, on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa, by congratulating the State of Israel on its 66th National Day of Independence and wish her the best for the future.  “Shalom!” “Peace!”

Yom Haazmaut Embassy1
This colourful picture by SAJR’s ILAN OSSENDRYVER shows Jewish school kids singing in front of DIRCO’s Themba Rubushe, left, Ambassador Arthur Lenk and his deputy DCM Michael Freeman

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