Malema vows to target Israel, but not Jews
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has vowed to cut all ties with Israel should his party be voted into power after next year’s general election.
Insisting that his party’s stance on Israel had nothing to do with the Jewish people because there are many “progressive Jews”, Malema said it would sever all ties with the Jewish state.
Speaking at an EFF press briefing last Wednesday, 2 August, at the closing of the party’s 10-year anniversary celebrations, the controversial politician said, “There won’t be an Israeli embassy under the EFF until human rights are respected in Palestine.”
He was responding to questions posed by SalaamMedia when he said, “We’re not downsizing. We’re going to withdraw our embassy from Israel, and we’re going to chase away the Israeli embassy in South Africa. If we can’t do that, then our solidarity with the Palestinians is lip service.”
The firebrand politician said he would ban all cultural, economic, and political exchanges between the two countries, effectively cutting all ties.
“We won’t allow any teams, any of our people, to go and participate in sporting activities or festivals or anything of that sort in Israel, that has stolen and continues to kill and oppress the people of Palestine.
“When we say ‘Israel’, we’re referring to the state of Israel, not Jews. There are a lot of progressive Jewish people, so we must never use the EFF stance on Israel to perpetuate hatred for the Jewish community.”
Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “Malema’s obvious message is that only Jews who share his hostile sentiments towards Israel are worthy of any consideration. It speaks volumes about his unwillingness to engage with views that challenge his own deeply-held prejudices. It’s a pity.”
Milton Shain, emeritus professor of historical studies at the University of Cape Town, said, “Only this morning, I read a piece by analyst Ebrahim Harvey that Julius Malema should do some reading on Marxism-Leninism before he calls himself a Marxist-Leninist as he did at the FNB Stadium on his party’s 10th anniversary. He again demonstrates a lack of insight, not to mention knowledge. ‘Apartheid-Israel’ is a shibboleth. It isn’t shared by an overwhelming number of Jews in South Africa, ‘progressive’ or not. Malema should know that Israel occupied the West Bank after a war which wasn’t of its making. Only the simple-minded blame one side in this tragic conflict. Malema wants it both ways. He appears to think that he will gain political points by ostracising Israel. Only Israel. Not Putin’s Russia, which he admires. But to avoid being called out for antisemitism, he talks of many ‘progressive Jews’ whom he values. I’m afraid, most don’t see the world in black and white, as does the EFF leader.”
Sara Gon, the head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations, said Malema’s comments about the isolation of Israel and the closing down of the Israeli embassy were standard left-wing, anti-Israel sentiments.
“They are based on the usual ignorance of Israel by the left, and taking everything that the Palestinian leadership says or does to be true and real, just because it’s the Palestinians doing or saying it,” she said.
“By emphasising that there are many ‘progressive Jews’, he’s trying to create the impression that it’s not Jews that are being targeted. Given his position, he must mean that progressive Jews are those who hold anti-Zionist/anti-Israel views.
“So, what does that mean for Jews who don’t fit that categorisation – who do support Zionism or Israel even though their general political views may not be conservative or even centrist? Does Malema mean not to target Jews, irrespective of their opinions, because there are ‘progressive’ ones?
“His comments were made in answer to a question in a media conference, and his anti-Israel positions have always been clear. He genuinely doesn’t want to be accused of antisemitism – it’s not a good look.”
However, she said it was unlikely that individual Jews would face the EFF’s ire, or at least not too much. “Where the interactions are likely to become heated and possibly antisemitic is when the EFF has to deal with Jewish organisations in South Africa. Their pro-Zionist/pro-Israel position will bring out the worst in Malema and the EFF in those circumstances,” Gon said.
Malema celebrated his party’s 10th anniversary with a keynote address to tens of thousands of red-clad supporters, once again vowing to unseat the African National Congress in 2024 and making promises that the organisation would provide a better future for South Africans.