Are we all on same page on Mid-East question?

  • Vanessa
There is a generally held perception among South African Jewry that the current South African government is strongly critical of Israel and that many of its leadership see Israel as a tyrannical, or Nazi-like regime.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Jul 15, 2015

It is easy to see why. Just this past weekend, the ANC’s Obed Bapela, deputy minister in the presidency, slammed a group of students who visited Israel under the auspices of the South Africa-Israel Forum. Many of the students were members of the South African Students Congress (Sasco) and the ANC (see story page 2).

“We have a clear position that supports Palestinian freedom,” said Bapela. “No leader of the ANC in a private capacity or for the party will visit Israel. It will be putting the ANC in disrepute,” he added.

This was followed by Sasco’s National Executive Committee’s decision to temporarily suspend all its members who participated in the “propaganda trip to Israel” pending a disciplinary hearing.

And exactly a year ago, during last summer’s Gaza war, ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, condemned Israel and called its defensive strikes on Hamas targets “barbaric attacks on the defenceless Palestinian people of Gaza”, adding that Israel had turned the “occupied territories of Palestine into permanent death camps”.

She announced that all branches of the ANC would join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in organising protests for the immediate end to Israeli violence against the Palestinian people.

Bapela and Duarte are just two of a group of powerful government ministers and office bearers who have been outspoken in their calls for a boycott of Israel or have shown strong support for the BDS movement.

Others include ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, former Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim; Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies; Deputy President and current ANC chairman, Baleka Mbete; Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande (who is actually heading the Communist Party); and of course everyone remembers former Minister of Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils, who referred to Israelis as baby killers.

For our community their rhetoric is very threatening. The Jewish Board called it reprehensible that Bapela condemned and threatened to punish individuals simply for exercising their democratic right to freedom of thought and association.

And so too, Duarte’s comments last year which did not take into account South African Jewry’s generally held view that Israel was protecting itself from Hamas terror tactics in the Gaza war, was met with disgust by the Jewish Board.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said she should be held accountable for her “morally repugnant words, which have brought the ANC into disrepute”.

What is probably most difficult to deal with for our community is that many government ministers seem so aligned to the BDS movement - a campaign whose supporters have often and openly called for an end to the State of Israel.

Yet despite the virulent criticism of Israel and the loyalties shown to BDS by vocal government and ANC members, President Jacob Zuma and senior members of his Cabinet have never publicly steered away from their support for a two-state solution.  

According to a statement released by the government news agency last year after the Gaza war, South Africa supports “a contiguous and economically viable Palestinian state existing side by side in peace with Israel, within mutually agreed and internationally recognised borders based on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

In fact, South Africa has expressed great enthusiasm for engaging with both sides to share some lessons about reconciliation and contribute towards a peaceful solution - appointing two envoys last year - former Minister Zola Skweyiya and former Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad -for this purpose. The pair were in Israel very recently and met with Israel’s Director General of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold.

So, while the harsh rhetoric coming from senior government officials seems to confuse people about the official party line, there is still no evidence that our current government would change course and decide to support an Arab-run, one-state solution.

With local government elections next year, the Democratic Alliance has avoided battles on this hot-button issue. The good news is that despite misunderstood comments from DA leader Mmusi Maimani, the party is clearly also aligned with the idea of a two-state solution and a peaceful outcome for the Israeli-Palestinian issue (see letters page 9 ).

And although there are many issues that our own community and our major political parties and government have to grapple with and may disagree on, it seems that, at least for now, we are all on the same page when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian question.


1 Comment

  1. 1 nat cheiman 16 Jul
    Whilst many in government follow what the sangoma says, they have little or no knowledge of the old testament and those that go to church sing and dance most of the time. If they were religious, they would know that Judaism is more than 6000 years old and that jews were in Israel before the philistines. Aziz Pahad is a Muslim. Not interested in giving the Jews a hearing.Skweyiya is like Bapela. A moron. He knows about big salaries and luxury cars. Don't bend his mind with mid east matters.
    No one is on the same page about Israel other than the Jews (exclude the self hating ones) 


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