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Jewish groups condemn SA cosying up to Iran



“For the past two months, the Iranian government has violently suppressed protests calling for women’s rights. It’s morally repugnant that our government would welcome the Iranian minister during the 16 Days of Activism, or at any time.”

So said South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) spokesperson, Rolene Marks, this week, following the South African government’s invitation to Iranian foreign minister, Dr Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, to visit South Africa on 28 November in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign. In addition, the government has invited Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit in 2023.

“These invitations portray the hypocrisy of the African National Congress (ANC) government’s commitments to fighting gender-based violence (GBV),” said Marks. “The South African government has yet to utter a single word of support for the women and girls of Iran.”

The SAZF isn’t alone. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) was equally scathing of the government’s invitation to Iranian leaders while their country has unleashed a massive crackdown on citizens protesting its authoritarian regime and oppression of women, girls, and minorities. Meanwhile, South Africa continues to distance itself from Israel, Iran’s sworn enemy.

“As the streets of Iran echo with chants of “Women, life, liberty” and peaceful protestors demand fundamental human rights for the women of their country, it’s deeply shameful that the South African government would welcome a state visit from Iran,” says SAJBD spokesperson Alana Baranov.

“The wave of women-led protests in Iran were sparked by the brutal murder in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested by Iran’s notorious ‘morality police’ for allegedly wearing her head scarf too loosely. In the weeks that followed Amini’s death, thousands of Iranian women and their supporters have taken to the streets. The protestors have encountered brutal violence. The rising death toll has been widely condemned by many governments and international organisations. South Africa has been silent.

“The values of Iran, a theocratic and highly oppressive state, are diametrically opposed to the democratic principles of South Africa,” says Baranov. “Our country, with its long history of women leaders at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid and building a free and equal South Africa, should be a voice for freedom, equality, and dignity for all. We betray the values of the Freedom Charter and our Constitution, as well as the memory of our women leaders, when we don’t stand up for women’s rights around the world.

“Instead of rolling out the red carpet for repressive leaders with the blood of Iranian women and children on their hands, our government should be adding our voice to condemning the violence and calling for full and equal human rights for all citizens of Iran,” says Baranov.

Corné Mulder, a member of parliament and chief whip of the Freedom Front Plus, asked International Relations Minister Dr Naledi Pandor on 8 November to confirm the visits. He also asked, among other questions, “whether, considering that the Iranian regime ascribes to values that are diametrically opposed to the principles on which the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa is based, her department has found that the visit could undermine the fight against GBV in South Africa and around the world? What’s the position of the republic on the repression of women’s rights by Iran?”

Pandor confirmed the visits, saying that Amir-Abdollahian will participate in the 15th Session of the South Africa-Iran Joint Commission of Co-operation in South Africa on 29 November.

“A state visit by President Raisi will allow for engagement at the highest political level with the objective of strengthening bilateral relations and exchanging views on a number of political, economic, and social issues including human rights, as South Africa will serve as a member of the Human Rights Council from 2023,” she said. “Sectoral visits to Iran earlier this year in May, August, and October already focused on policies and programmes by the two countries to support women empowerment. In this regard, I am of the view that an engagement could enrich the efforts of both countries towards the empowerment of women.

“We’re concerned about discrimination and oppression based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and origin as outlined by our Constitution,” she said. “In this regard, South Africa makes its views heard in different forums, depending on the context and individual incidents. We’ll engage with Iran on concerns we have regarding discrimination and violence against women.”

In addition, Iranian media reported that Amir-Abdollahian and Pandor held a phone conversation on 16 November where “the Iranian foreign minister welcomed the readiness of both sides to take great strides in line with the further enhancement of the ties between the two countries”.

Samuel Hyde, formerly from South Africa and now a Middle-East affairs political researcher at the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in Israel, says, “Following South Africa’s refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pandor’s decision to increase bilateral engagement with Iran at a time where its citizens are fighting for their freedom represents a catastrophic error in judgement. This may come as no surprise to some, granted Pandor’s willingness to overlook, and in some cases support, the activities of the Iranian-backed terror organisation Hamas.”

But, says local political analyst Steven Gruzd, “The ANC has long allied with post-revolutionary Tehran after 1979, and isn’t too concerned about alleged human rights abuses in Iran. South Africa has strongly opposed sanctions on Iran and defended its right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. South Africa also sees Iran as a counterweight to the West, in addition to BRICS (the economic grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). South Africa would support Iran joining BRICS if it applied.”

Marks says the United States and European Union have exercised harsh sanctions against the Iranian government in response to Iranian police opening fire on crowds of people mourning at Amini’s grave.

“According to the non-government organisation Iran Human Rights, as many as 378 civilians, including 47 children, have been killed by the regime during the past two months, and a protestor has been sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court,” she says. “Evidence indicates that the Islamic Republic may be planning to carry out hasty executions of at least 20 protestors facing charges punishable by death, as per official reports.”

She points to comments by the director of Iran Human Rights, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, who said, “The international community must strongly warn the Islamic Republic of the consequences of executing protestors, [by] summoning their ambassadors and implementing stronger effective human rights action against state officials.”

“As the world denounces the oppression of women by the Iranian regime, the ANC government welcomes it,” says Marks. “The SAZF strongly condemns this engagement, and calls on the ANC-led South African government to stand with the Iranian people.”

The SA Jewish Report sent questions to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), including why South Africa had invited Iranian dignitaries considering the country’s human rights abuses; South Africa’s reaction to the deaths of protestors including children; how South Africans are meant to interpret the fact that our government has invited this foreign minister during our 16 Days of Activism; what it intends to say to the foreign minister about it; why South Africa condemns Israel for supposed oppression but not Iran; and if South Africa will be recalling its ambassador to Iran.

There was no response from Dirco at the time of going to print.

Photo credit: Tasnim News Agency

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