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Israel haters deflect from war in Europe

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The South African government, the ruling party, and anti-Israel lobbyists have embarked on a campaign to keep the now upstaged pro-Palestinian narrative alive during one of the darkest times in European history this century.

While world leaders this week rushed to condemn Russia for its barbaric and terrifying invasion of Ukraine, the African National Congress (ANC) has organised a protest march to the Israel embassy in solidarity with the Palestinians on Thursday, 3 March.

Political heavyweights like ANC National Chairperson Gwede Mantashe, the minister of mineral resources, will be taking part, according to the ANC online advertisement.

The president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zingiswa Losi, and the deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Solly Mapaila, will join him as they march towards the embassy to hand over a memorandum. They will be accompanied by Palestinian Ambassador Hanan Jarrar.

Jarrar wrote an opinion piece in last week’s Sunday Times titled, “The African Union should not be rewarding an apartheid state”. In it, she said that granting Israel observer status was a “slap in the face” of the human-rights struggle. She hasn’t posted a word about solidarity with those currently suffering in Europe.

According to Peace Mabe, international relations convenor of the ANC Gauteng, the march on Thursday coincides with Human Rights Month in South Africa as well as Israel Apartheid Week later this month.

“The march is about human rights,” she told the SA Jewish Report. “We want to destroy the narrative that creates divisions and encourages prejudice of the people of Palestine and demonstrate our solidarity.”

She made no mention of the violations being perpetrated against Ukrainians, as a human-rights tragedy of enormous proportions unfolds this week in Eastern Europe. In fact, the ANC’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been muted.

There has been an uptick in anti-Israel rhetoric by lobby groups who have displayed a deafening silence to the Ukraine crisis, mainly critical of the mainstream media’s portrayal of the Ukrainians as heroes and the Russians as villains.

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation said, “Amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and widespread international condemnation, the ANC and its coalition partners have chosen to march not to the Russian but the Israeli embassy. This move, which places the ruling party at odds with the entire democratic world alongside the values espoused in our Constitution, only highlights the ANC’s double-standards and hypocritical obsession with Israel.”

A long-winded anti-Israel opinion piece written by Alvin Botes, the deputy minister of the department of international affairs and cooperation (Dirco), appeared in Daily Maverick on Thursday, 24 February, the day of the Russian invasion.

Botes was commemorating the 1994 anniversary of the tragic massacre of 29 people in a Hebron mosque committed by religious extremist Baruch Goldstein. He used the opportunity to criticise Israel in a long-winded essay that was then posted on the Dirco website, further stamping it with the approval of government.

Meanwhile, Israel, which has strong diplomatic relations with Russia and Ukraine, has been helping to evacuate thousands of citizens from Ukraine including citizens from countries in a state of war with Israel.

According to Haaretz, the Israeli foreign ministry confirmed that Israeli diplomats have been assisting citizens from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt to evacuate from Ukraine, transporting them alongside Israeli refugees.

The Jewish Agency has set up stations next to at least five Ukrainian border crossings to process migrants trying to escape the war.

Political commentator Daniel Silke told the SA Jewish Report that the anti-Israel lobby was trying to appear relevant. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine poses a problem for movements like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) and other pro-Palestinian groups in that it distracts attention from their cause and redirects it obviously to matters in Eastern and central Europe.”

He said this meant BDS and its allies like the ANC, Cosatu, and the SACP were going to be called upon “to raise the profile” of the Israeli-Palestinian question “so that it’s not forgotten during this tumultuous time”.

“Finding a heavyweight in Mantashe may be part and parcel of upping the public-relations ante and getting some media attention,” he said.

“This is just an attempt to muscle back in during a time in which the Ukrainian question is really going to take much of the world’s attention and also focus much of the popular protest movement on the ground away from the Middle East.”

South African Friends of Israel spokesperson Bafana Modise said the organisation was “disappointed” by the actions of the ANC in staging a protest march to the Israeli embassy.

“This shows the ANC has no interest in becoming a peace broker in the Middle East. Its agenda is to demonise Israel,” he said.

“Even in the middle of a world-war crisis, it still chooses Israel as a scapegoat, to be seen as relevant, as caring for human rights. If it did care about human rights, the party would have shown solidarity with Ukraine and condemned the actions of Russia, but evidently only Israel is worthy of all the condemnation because it’s a scapegoat.

“This is all about political relevance,” Modise said. “If this was about human rights, they’d be marching to the Russian embassy and the Chinese embassy, marching to many other countries which are guilty of human-rights abuses. This is a project to demonise Israel and to be seen as politically relevant.”

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