Making our case to the ANC against an Israeli embassy downgrade

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev
The new year is now well underway, with the beginning of the school year commencing this week. Once again, our Jewish day schools recorded excellent matric results. I congratulate our successful matriculants and wish them all success as they embark on the next stage of their lives.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jan 18, 2018

The year 2017 also ended with the election of a new ANC leadership. While it is still early days, we are seeing a renewed sense of purpose at the senior leadership level, and are hopeful that this will lead to positive results.

Regrettably, the ANC electoral conference also saw the passing of a resolution to downgrade the South African embassy. In the months prior to this, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) devoted extensive time and resources to carrying out a comprehensive evaluation of the possible implications of such a step. The SAJBD, by way of communication sent to our board president Mary Kluk, was invited by the ANC to give its input into the debate, and it was decided to provide the ruling party with as broad a range of relevant information as possible to assist it in coming to an informed decision.  

In compiling our recommendation – subsequently published in a booklet of submissions from a range of stakeholders – no area where a downgrade might impact was overlooked.

There was, of course, the trade aspect, related to which was the question of what this country could gain from the technical expertise and know-how that Israel is willing and able to provide, such as in water management, agriculture, hi tech, communications and medical innovation. How might a scaling down of diplomatic relations impact on existing and future bilateral trade relations, as well as on foreign investment?

To this end, we commissioned the Tutwa Consulting Group, an apolitical, academically accredited research body, to provide an analysis of the possible economic implications.

Next, we emphasised the religious-cultural importance of the Israel connection for Jews and a significant proportion of the Christian population. Here, we received extensive support for our position from, amongst others, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities .

The potential psychological impact of a downgrade on the Jewish community was likewise factored in.

A third important area concerned the role that South Africa wishes to play in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian question, something that a downgrade in relations would surely undermine.

Through this extended process, in which we worked closely with other Jewish communal organisations, we were able to present a multifaceted case, arguing that an embassy downgrade was likely not only to undermine South Africa’s own objective interests, but would do nothing to help – indeed, might even hinder – the cause for Palestinian statehood. 

Naturally, we were disappointed about the outcome of the debate, particularly as in the end, what we saw was less of a genuine issues-based discussion than an outpouring of emotive, one-sided rhetoric. However, the issue is far from concluded.

As previously pointed out, the fact that the ANC has voted for a downgrade does not automatically mean that this will become government policy. We remain confident that we have made a cogent case against a downgrade, and will therefore continue to engage with government and the ANC, as well as with all stakeholder groups likely to be affected by it. 

•         Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00



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