The Jewish Report Editorial

Countering the Israeli apartheid metaphor in SA

  • Vanessa
When former Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim in 2012 instituted a de facto ban on South African government ministers visiting Israel, it epitomised the souring of a once very close relationship between the two states. T
by VANESSA VALKIN | Feb 19, 2015

This was echoed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who remarked at the time: "The last time I saw a map of Palestine, I couldn't go to sleep… It is just dots, smaller than those of the homelands, and that broke my heart."

What a stark contrast to the intimacy of the relationship that the Israeli government had with the National Party in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Although Israel, at times, expressed criticism for South Africa’s apartheid, the two countries, surrounded by hostile nations, were almost driven into one another’s arms, becoming close military and economic allies.

Today there is no official policy of boycotting Israel nor cutting diplomatic ties, but support for BDS and the Palestinian struggle is very strong among ANC members. Grabbing the banner of the apartheid struggle to compare the plight of Palestinians to the plight of disenfranchised black South Africans pre-1994, has become a very motivating slogan for both ANC elite and younger struggle activists of all ethnicities

I heard one South African student leader say last week that “If you are pro-human rights then you are pro-the Palestinian cause (and against Israel)”. Today, most of the South African political leadership are too intimidated to visit Israel. For many there is a genuine affinity for the Palestinian struggle and a desire to boycott Israel, but for those who would be open to engaging in dialogue, there is a genuine fear of ostracism.

How we are countering the boycott

Luckily our community never just throws their hands up in hopelessness. As you read this, the largest ever delegation of MPs from the Democratic Alliance (DA) to visit any foreign country are spending a week in Israel, visiting the territories and meeting with members of both Israel’s Foreign Ministry as well as with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

The trip is being organised by a very innovative group called the South Africa-Israel Forum, run by a dynamic young American, Dan Brotman. Working closely with DA Shadow Minister of Labour Michael Bagraim, they managed to convince the 8 participants to join.

The group even includes DA Deputy Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training Yusuf Cassim, South Africa’s youngest member of parliament in history, who sits on the Muslim Judicial Council and who helped organise a rally last July in support of the Gazans during Operation Protective Edge. Any previous attempts to get a big delegation to go, had failed.

“The Jewish community should not take it for granted-that DA MPs would go to Israel,” says Brotman. “They are very concerned about the Muslim vote.”

SAIF is taking a whopping 200 individuals to Israel this year. They include journalists, politicians, and student leaders. Their strategy is to focus on the country’s younger political leaders - future job creators and opinion makers who are also more likely to be persuaded to go than their older more established counterparts.

In conjunction with the South African Union of Jewish Students, SAIF took a delegation of 16 Student Representative Council (SRC) members from Wits, University of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Rhodes, to Israel in January, many with ties to the ANC Youth League and Sasco.

Jamie Mithi, one of the delegates, spoke about how the six-day trip “cleared the fog” of propaganda and information he and friends are continually fed on campus and through the media.

Although Zionist church groups visit Israel all the time and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies take 10 journalists a year, there has to be more done to take non-Jewish decision-makers and politicians to Israel to see matters for themselves. Durban University of Technology SRC’s call last week for the deregistration of any students who did not support the Palestinian cause, make trips like these all the more vital.

We have a lot to learn from North American Jewry with strong lobby groups like AIPAC in the US and CJPAC in Canada, who have extensive human and financial resources behind them to win the propaganda war and to build as many bridges as possible between Israel, their Diaspora communities and government leadership in Washington and Ottawa respectively.

We, within South Africa, of course have a much more hostile environment than North America, to contend with. But we are not powerless at all. Our community, both here and in Israel, has a glittering reputation for success - academically and financially.

Our fellow-South Africans do want to learn from us. For example, a privately funded trip to Israel last year took seven powerful South African business leaders, many with strong ties to ANC and government, who wanted to learn about Israel’s business practices and build economic ties. Like the SRC leaders last month, they were overwhelmed by the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit they witnessed and were anxious for further connection and collaboration.

We cannot change the minds of a whole nation, many of them attached to the apartheid struggle metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian issue, nor can we fund trips for even a fraction of them. But there is power in individual connections and in giving leaders the opportunity and exposure to make up their own minds about Israel. We need to commend and support these game changing initiatives.



  1. 5 nat cheiman 18 Feb
    Nkoana- Mashabane seems to be able to sleep quite peacefully at night with Zuma at the helm. In fact, the last time I watched her in parliament, she had fallen asleep.
    The dots to which the minister was referring , concerning the map of Palestine were in fact braille (for the blind).
    The minister would have us believe that she can actually read a map, which in my opinion is untrue.
    Unlike her predecessor, Ebrahim, who unknowingly planted trees in his name in Israel a few years ago, the position of International Relations (in SA ) is not a post that has usually been occupied by intelligent people.
    Nkoana- Mashabane would do well to talk to Avigdor Liberman, her counterpart in Israel and a member of the coalition, on his view of those "dots"that she felt (or saw) on the map and ask for his views. He would tell her that those dots are probably a crease in the map and that they should not be there. In fact, my feeling is that he will tell her, also that the entire middle east (map) will be redrawn in the not too distant future.
    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the minister and her cohorts in government are an irrelevancy in African politics let alone globally speaking.
  2. 4 Angelique 19 Feb
    Palestine was the entire Roman conquered area in the Middle East, it was not a country. Palestine included Jordan. The fact that our government supports these people claiming to belong to the fictitious nation called "Palestine", is evidence of their ignorance and lack of education. Is the Jewish community in our country really that surprised? What may surprise the Jewish community is where their support comes from within South Africa...
  3. 3 Judith Yacov 19 Feb
    Very good editorial.  It goes a long way to counter the hype of the BDS movement without using similar hype. Here in Israel we look forward to welcoming South African visitors.
  4. 2 Jonni 24 Feb
    Even Norman Finkelstein,the notorious self hating Professor,has condemned the BDS movement. ( watch him on you tube )

    Once again ask the BDS apologists to switch off their Israeli designed software and their minds with an almighty ALT,CONTROL ,DELETE
  5. 1 David Deutsch; 02 Feb
    Israel has an official policy of "separation," openly discussed among Israeli Jews.  "Separation" is "apartheid" in Afrikaner.   You cannot "counter" this.

    Why do you suppose there was such a nice, warm relationship with White Supremacist South Africa?  Think really hard and the answer will occur to you.  Israel only join in the boycott of South Africa -- and then only in name as they continued business with that state and its white citizens -- very late, one of the last states to sign on. 

    You people are sadly unable to see with your eyes.  Separate legal systems, schools, roads, police, army, etc.  Over 50 laws in Israel "proper" discriminate against non-Jews.  How do you reconcile this with democracy and equality? 

    Some prissy little person gets snooty about Finkelstein who possesses analytic skills you dwarfs can't begin to imagine.  Finkelstein does like BDS, but not for any reason you could understand.


  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
    Toolbar's wrapper 
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.


Follow us on