Ramaphosa’s anti-Israel venom a watershed moment
In 2017, the African National Congress (ANC) infamously resolved to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel to a “liaison office”. At the same time, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the ANC. While regurgitating the ANC’s partisan rhetoric on the Palestinian conflict, he seemed personally disengaged from the issue.
In 2019, he praised Israel at a Women in Business conference, stating that Israel was “leading by leaps and bounds, and they are actually innovative in a number of sectors of the economy, in agriculture, in maritime, and in a number of other areas”. He concluded that South Africa “can learn a lot from what they [Israel] does”.
In May 2021, Hamas fired more than 4 000 rockets at Israeli civilians and the Israel Defense Forces responded with “Operation Guardian of the Walls” to protect the population from this terror onslaught. It was then that the ANC, led by Ramaphosa, decided to defenestrate Israel and the Jews.
The president, who previously enjoyed good relations with the South African Jewish community, including long-standing friendships and business partnerships, donors to his presidential campaign, and warm receptions at Jewish functions, decided he no longer needed us. Or, put another way, he decided that the ANC’s interests and his personal agenda were better served by turning away from us.
During the 2021 conflict, Ramaphosa repeated the libel that Israel is an apartheid state on French television. He repeated the same calumny in his weekly presidential letter to South Africa. This gave the opportunity to Dr Naledi Pandor, the minister of international relations and cooperation, already patently antagonistic towards Israel, to greatly amplify her anti-Israel pursuits. She sent a department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) delegation, at South African taxpayer’s expense, to North Africa and the African Union in Addis Ababa to campaign against Israel being granted observer status – while, of course, having no problem with despots and dictators, friends of the ANC government, having observer status.
After some private discussion, Ramaphosa appeared to moderate his own approach while enabling the palpably partisan Pandor to pursue her obsession against Israel and Israel alone in the community of nations, demanding that Israel should be taken to the International Criminal Court, repeatedly attacking democratic Israel at every possible opportunity, but never finding a dictatorship or evil regime she didn’t like.
Fast forward to October this year, when the Hamas terrorist cult engaged in a pogrom of biblical proportions, murdering more than 1 400 Jews, maiming, and injuring thousands, abducting scores, slaughtering babies, and destroying families forever. One would expect any government having the slightest modicum of decency and humanity to condemn the deliberate murder of Jews at a level of barbarity not seen since the Holocaust. One would hope that Ramaphosa, who has benefitted from personal connections with many Jews during his career, would empathise with the horror and shock of his Jewish citizens.
Indeed, Ramaphosa and his government did express solidarity and support: they supported the Palestinian terrorist killers and condemned their Jewish victims, particularly when the victims fought back. They did so knowing the South African Jewish community’s unbreakable religious and spiritual ties to Israel; its immense and incalculable contribution to South Africa; the employment of millions of South Africans through Jewish entrepreneurship and innovation; and the disproportionate numbers of Jews who supported the ANC in its struggle against apartheid. All of this was cast aside in an instant by Ramaphosa and his national executive committee members, who gathered outside their meeting last Saturday garnishing Palestinian keffiyehs and pledging their unyielding solidarity with the Palestinians who produced the monsters that burnt babies, raped women, and massacred young festival goers.
This, indeed, marks a watershed moment in relations between the South African Jewish community and the ANC. Pandor, transparently hostile already, has now been entirely unleashed. She once spoke out against an academic boycott of Israel, but now officially adopts the position of the antisemitic BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, calling for a boycott of Israeli products in South Africa. Other government ministers now participate at events and press conferences wearing keffiyehs. It should be obvious how divisive this behaviour is to the social fabric of South Africa, destructive to the unifying theme of the “Rainbow Nation”, and damaging to the religious and cultural groupings in this country. It should be obvious, too, that it encourages antisemitic behaviour, and the ANC government will be held accountable for it. Ramaphosa should be told that he is the president of a country, not just a party or sectarian group.
Let’s be aware that appeasement has never worked as a strategy for Jews, and we’ll not pander to the ANC. The Jewish community must send a roaring message to the president and his ruling party. We’ll not be intimidated by antics that generate hate and division, even though we’ve been hurt and betrayed by them. We’ll never change our Jewish identity. We’re proud South Africans, and proud Jews and Zionists who unequivocally support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and defend herself against evil. We stand with Israel, not because it’s easy but because it’s right. We’re a community of peace loving people that has a vested interest in the success of South Africa and encourages warm relations with all other South Africans. We’re nation builders. We’re strong, and have a rightful and proud place in South Africa. We’ve earned it. We demand the same protection under the same laws and Constitution as all other South Africans.
We need to encourage our Christian friends to stand up, stand with us, and exercise their voice. The ANC’s hostility towards Israel doesn’t represent the views of the majority of South Africans, and this behaviour won’t win it votes at the ballot box. A political party that obsesses with hatred against Israel should be voted out of power. History shows that any ruler with an unhealthy obsession about Jews or the Jewish state has rot in their moral fibre. If the ANC government believes that it’s different to those who hate the Jews and eventually perish, it’s sorely mistaken.
The future of South Africa depends on the future of Jews in South Africa. As a community, we need to fight for the right to this future. That starts right here and now.
- Rowan Polovin is the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation.