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SA

Israel ‘wise to keep counsel on SA’

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MOIRA SCHNEIDER

Referring to the potential downgrading of the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office and the recall of this country’s ambassador to Israel in May, Keinan said Israel had to decide how to “play the game”. Should it retaliate as in a normal bilateral relationship, or look at the broader picture?

“I am very happy to see that Israel kept quiet and the situation didn’t deteriorate,” he said. “For the first time, I hear voices of the South African government talking about the return of the ambassador – soon I hope.”

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement was “storming on violently”, and those that supported the continuity of the relationship between the two countries needed to make their voices heard “because there are many more of us”.

“We need to put content into the relationship,” Keinan said, referring to a “huge” project connecting villages to water. “We need to create something to balance those (BDS) voices. We’re doing as much as we can from the embassy point of view.”

As for Israel, it had never been better. Security-wise, 2017 had experienced the lowest number of injured and dead since the establishment of the state. “It has been quiet times with the West Bank due to co-operation, and the understanding that it’s of mutual benefit if neighbours have prosperity and growth.”

Forty per cent of the territory’s economy was a direct product of Israel because of its proximity and relationship to Israel. “So, if it wants to boycott Israel, it’s boycotting the Palestinians too,” Keinan said, referring to BDS.

As for Gaza, Hamas had found itself “a bit isolated” due to political developments in the region. “So, it is making chaos with Israel to get back to centre stage and [maintain] relevance,” he maintained.

“It’s nothing to do with Israel. But we have to protect our civilians. We’d like the people of Gaza to live happily and with dignity. We have to have a balance between the situation of our citizens, and make sure that life is bearable for those people, even though their leaders couldn’t care a damn.”

Israel’s international relations had advanced “a lot” over the past few years, Keinan said. Four of the five Brics members were able to put aside politics and promote tourism and trade with the Jewish state.

Unfortunately that was not the case with South Africa, but “we have to try”, he said. “With the rest of the world, Israel is running ahead. We will carry South Africa too one day. South Africa can’t stand on its own – it’s a question of time, and it will happen,” he predicted.

Guest speaker Professor Gil Troy expressed admiration for the South African Jewish community, saying it was “not easy to be on the frontlines”, and that it was doing “holy work in this age of lies”.

The American political historian and Zionist activist is the author of The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland – Then, Now, Tomorrow. Troy’s thesis is that we now live in a world of Zionist ideas, with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state.

In 1948, Israel had been fragile, while Zionist conversation had been robust. “Today Israel is robust, and Zionist conversation has become fragile,” Troy said. “Shame on us if we have become victimised by the occupation pre-occupation. We have to go back to fundamentals.”

A century ago, Zionism had revived pride in the label “Jew”. Today, Jews must revive pride in the label “Zionist”, he said. “We need to explain how to be critical and loving. That’s called patriotism, that’s democracy.

“I understand you’re in a difficult situation,” Troy told the conference, “and I feel your pain, but I think you’re not activating and energising what you can do for us. The “A” word (apartheid) is being inserted more and more into the conversation about Israel. We’re hearing it on the Israeli left, and in the United States.

“We need you to stand up and explain what apartheid is and was, and what it isn’t.

“You have a credibility that will help. Stand up against the apartheid lie, and be proud that you have a role to play in the rest of the world.”

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