Pandor lambasted over “outrageous” Ukraine/Palestine comparison
The department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) has been criticised for citing the Israel-Palestine conflict in the same breath as Ukraine, and ironically, urging the international community to be consistent in its approach.
Dirco has steadfastly maintained its neutral stance on the Russian war against Ukraine in spite of the number of fatalities, devastation, and horrific accounts of suffering that continue unabated.
Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor last week said that though South Africa didn’t condone Russia’s “military intervention”, it maintained its independent, non-aligned views on the conflict in Ukraine, holding the view that negotiations and diplomacy would end the conflict.
Speaking during the 2022 Heads of Mission conference in Pretoria, she told media that there needed to be consistency in the approach of the international community to countries that violate international law, and she cited Israel as an example of the world failing to respond in the same way as it had to Ukraine by imposing sanctions, isolation, and a divestment campaign.
“One of our concerns is the seeming lack of balanced evidence in the United Nations today. When Israel launched sustained offensive military operations against the Gaza strip, killing hundreds, flattening homes, burying civilians under the rubble, and devastating the already dilapidated infrastructure in such a small and densely populated area, the world failed to respond in the same way as it has on Ukraine. That military aggression isn’t met with sanctions, isolation, and a divestment campaign.”
In response to Pandor’s comments, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, lashed out on Twitter saying, “Sigh. What a nonsense, fake comparison. Unless I missed news of Ukrainian rocket attacks aimed towards Russian civilians, shooting up bars and markets in Moscow/St Petersburg, and advanced warnings of impending bombings in Mariupol and Kharkiv.”
He later tweeted, “Does SA government actually have any foreign policy independent of its knee-jerk, unnuanced, irrelevant views on Palestine?”
After initially flip flopping on Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Pandor, stressed that dialogue, mediation, and diplomacy was the only way to end the conflict, saying, “We have resisted becoming embroiled in the politics of confrontation and aggression that has been advocated by the powerful countries. Instead, we have promoted peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and negotiation.”
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. The resolution received a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly with 93 countries voting in favour, 24 against, and 58 abstaining. South Africa abstained. This was the third resolution since 2 March 2022 tabled on Ukraine at the UN General Assembly to which South Africa has abstained.
Political commentator Daniel Silke told the SA Jewish Report Pandor was “comparing apples with pears”.
“An unprovoked attack on a sovereign country combined with massive human atrocities and the negation of Ukraine as an independent entity by Russia is in no way comparable to Israel defending itself against ongoing terror threats emanating from the Palestinian territories or from the West Bank,” he said.
Silke said the government was “feeling the heat by virtue of its non-interventionist stance as the atrocities and human-rights abuses become more evident day after day. The silence from South Africa on this matter and in particular its failure to make contact with the Ukrainian head of state in Kyiv becomes more and more embarrassing in terms of being on the right side of history.”
To mitigate this, he said, Pandor was making reference to Israel and the Palestinian question.
Steven Gruzd, who heads the Russia-Africa Project at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, said equating the situation in Ukraine with the Palestinians seemed like an attempt to keep the latter in the news as the world’s attention was fixed on the former.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies lambasted Pandor, accusing her of attempting to justify South Africa’s “morally bankrupt stance” on Ukraine by resorting to her “usual knee-jerk Israel bashing”.
It accused Pandor of making “outrageous” comparisons between the devastation that Russia was wreaking on Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The comparison Pandor presumes to draw is as logically absurd as it’s factually baseless. No possible parallels exist between Israel defending its citizens against rocket fire and terror attacks and Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against a sovereign country.”
The Board said Pandor sought to explain South Africa’s failure to condemn the Russian invasion and human suffering by stating that, “South Africa does not take sides” and prioritising its role as mediator.
“Viewed against her unreflectingly condemnatory, one-sided stance on Israel, this display of hypocrisy would be laughable were it not so damaging and destructive,” the Board said.
“When it comes to the Jewish state, the minister’s stance and that of the government she represents appears to be intentionally provocative and discriminatory. Whereas South Africa has consistently had nothing to say about other far more devastating conflicts around the world, it has been singularly hostile towards Israel – issuing condemnatory statements, issuing demarche orders to Israeli diplomats, recalling South African ambassadors for consultation, and embarking on downgrades of its embassy.”
By contrast, the Board said Dirco’s response to the devastation wrought against Ukraine had been to join Russian diplomats in public celebrations of diplomatic relations.
“At the UN, South Africa supports any resolution to demonise the Jewish state, but cannot bring itself to align itself with the great majority of nations that have voted against Russia’s lawless aggression. As for Minister Pandor’s claim that South Africa seeks to mediate in global conflicts, this rings distinctly hollow in view of its policy of boycott and disengagement when it comes to Israel.
“Just as the minister cannot bring herself to acknowledge the devastation and human suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian people, so has she never concerned herself with the right to safety and security of Israeli citizens. It’s frankly shocking to note, moreover, that her latest diatribe has come at a time when Israel has been subjected to a wave of deadly terrorist attacks. Needless to say, South Africa has had nothing to say in response to these atrocities. It’s only when Israel responds to attacks that this country finds its voice.”
Dirco responded with “no comment” this week when approached by the SA Jewish Report.