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Meeting with new international affairs minister presses ‘reset’

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TALI FEINBERG

The leaders met Pandor at the offices of the department of international relations and cooperation in Pretoria on Tuesday afternoon.

Pandor was chosen by President Cyril Ramaphosa as the new head of the department after his election in May, succeeding Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

The Jewish delegation consisted of representatives of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and South African Zionist Federation. “I don’t think we could have asked for a better meeting. We requested it, and she promptly agreed, although it was postponed a number of times due to her travel schedule,” said Zev Krengel, the vice-president of the SAJBD.

“She brought all of her top advisors, and was professional and knowledgeable. Although we see the Middle East conflict from very different perspectives, the meeting was held in the South African spirit of respecting and listening to the other side. Everyone was extremely professional and engaging.”

Though the Israel/Palestine issue is an emotional topic for Muslims and Jews – and the minister is Muslim – both sides managed to talk in a measured and unemotional way.

“She recommitted to the African National Congress and government’s support of a two-state solution, which the board has always supported. She has an understanding of the situation, and was prepared to listen to a different view,” said Krengel.

“She set the tone of engagement and interaction – it was essentially a ‘reset button’,” he said. This is in comparison to the challenges the SAJBD felt in being heard by her predecessor, Sisulu.

Regarding the potential downgrade of the South African embassy in Tel Aviv, Krengel said Pandor “didn’t give anything away”.

“We told her why we think the downgrade is wrong, and how it will only hurt South Africans, not Israel. She said she would report our sentiments back to the president and secretary general.”

He said Minister Pandor hoped that the Jewish community would continue to encourage Israel to sit down at the peace table. She also recognised the unique role South Africa could play in assisting resolution of the conflict.

While she expressed the ANC and government’s solidarity with the Palestinian people, she made it clear that her government was looking for some sign of movement from both sides in order for South Africa to reengage in the process.

The delegation felt that she heard its concerns, and Minister Pandor ended the meeting by committing herself to continue dialogue with the SAJBD on local and international issues.

“There was an unbelievable level of respect, listening, and engagement from both sides,” said Krengel. “Let’s see how we can move forward.”

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