Rev Frank Chikane continues to “fixate” on the Jewish State
It took a mere four days in Israel last month for anti-apartheid stalwart Reverend Frank Chikane to conclude that the decades-old conflict in the Jewish State was “worse than apartheid”.
In a scathing, one-sided, highly publicised attack on the Jewish State, Chikane said there were “worse things happening there than apartheid” and publicly lambasted Israel for its treatment of Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
He did so on his return from a Palestine solidarity faith visit, which his delegation claimed “uncovered the full extent of the 55 years of illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel”.
Chikane, a long-time anti-Israel campaigner, is a moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and the World Council of Churches (WCC), and former vice-president and general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC).
The South African delegation, which visited the community of Sheik Jarrah and one other, said it saw “the blatant apartheid in the laws and enforcement of the illegal occupation”, finding the system to be more than apartheid “where at least there were civilian courts rather than military courts and military rules”.
Chikane accused the world of ignorance or turning a blind eye to the conflict, saying it was “racist and hypocritical” in how it responded with sanctions and pressure on Russia over the war in Ukraine, as opposed to its response to the Palestinian conflict.
This isn’t the first time that Chikane has come out in force against Israel, aligning himself with controversial reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accusing Israel of “stepping over the line” by engaging in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Sharing his observations on Radio 702 last week, he said Europe needed to get over its guilt over the Holocaust.
“Europe needs to get over the guilt of the killing of Jews” he said, “because it’s this guilt which is allowing Palestinians to be killed,” he said.
Chikane claimed that he met the “prime minister of Palestine, the foreign minister, and chief of justice; and human-rights organisations in Israel and Palestine”. He said the delegation concluded that what it saw was “an institutionalised, systematic legal system that makes sure that it discriminates against Palestinians and Arab Israelis, executed as a military operation”.
Chikane, who was last week nominated for the position of inspector-general of intelligence by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, made no mention of the innocent Israelis killed in recent terror attacks.
He said the delegation had requested meetings with the Israeli embassy, but hadn’t had a response. However, it is understood that any request was not received before they left.
Terrence Corrigan, project manager at the Institute of Race Relations, said the SACC and the WCC had long been energetic critics of Israel. “In the main, I don’t ascribe this to Christian theology, but rather to a sort of ‘anticolonial’ politics. Bear in mind that many Christian institutions don’t now focus primarily on supernatural matters, but are deeply invested in politics and the here-and-now – although they do bring a religious worldview in which stark dichotomies exist – good and evil. In this case, Palestinians are good, Israelis evil,” Corrigan said.
“There’s a good deal of hypocrisy in the focus on Israel, but not, say, on the persecution of the Church in China or North Korea, or the lack of political and civil rights in Cuba.”
He said Chikane’s comments reflected a particularly South African frame of analysis.
“Apartheid was South Africa’s trauma, and it’s the lens through which many of our most prominent citizens see the world. Where discrimination exists – or is perceived to exist – ‘apartheid’ is a handy, morally weighty descriptor.
“This does a disservice both to South Africa’s own experience and to those of people elsewhere. Apartheid was a system unique to South Africa at a particular time. Many other people around the world suffer persecution on any number of grounds. As dreadful as this may be – and it’s often dreadful – it’s not apartheid.
“But even trying to apply apartheid as a conceptual category would fail, given that Israeli Arabs aren’t defined by skin colour, they are accorded citizenship of the State, with rights to vote and the use of public facilities. One may be deeply critical of the Israeli State and of Israeli society, but it’s not apartheid.”
“The South African parochialism has another expression – this is the idea that South Africa’s transition is a template for a solution there. This is nonsense. South Africa has no significant history of politicised religious divisions, nor of resolving competing territorial claims.”
Anglican church minister, Reverend John Atkinson said that “a visit to Israel where you don’t meet Israelis reinforces the opinion that Chikane expressed last year”.
“His statement about Europe and the killing of Jews betrays the fact that he does not have a clue never mind about what the Nazis did, but how the Church historically is very much part of creating that environment.
“What’s happening in Israel and the disputed territories isn’t comparable to the Holocaust in any shape or form. He conveniently forgets that the history of those sins goes back centuries in the European communities of the Christian brothers and sisters he has in mind. This insensitivity to the sins of one’s own religion seems to be a hallmark of anti-Israel activists in the church.”
Pamela Ngubane of the South African Friends of Israel, said the delegation wasn’t on a “fact-finding mission”, but simply an “Israel-bashing mission”.
“The families of the 19 innocent civilians murdered in terror attacks in Israel this year weren’t visited. The communities of Sderot, who have endured a constant barrage of rockets originating in Gaza, weren’t engaged with. In fact, no constructive meetings promoting peace and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians happened at all.
“It’s evident that this tour had no interest in peace nor in finding a constructive solution to the decades-long conflict. Chikane has had a long-running campaign of hate and delegitimisation against the Jewish State.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies reiterated that if South Africans wanted to make a true contribution to peace between Israel and Palestine, they would need to engage with both parties.
“The so-called ‘fact-finding’ mission cannot be successful without them even attempting to understand the experiences and concerns of both sides in the conflict. Furthermore, a three-day visit with pre-determined conclusions cannot be construed as an attempt to really understand the situation and make any form of contribution,” said National Director Wendy Kahn.
“We continue to encourage all peace-loving South Africans who want a resolution to this conflict, be it our government, civil society, or interfaith groups, to focus on bringing the parties together rather than further polarising them,” she said.
“Chikane’s fixations on the Jewish State are alarming, and make no contribution to achieving peace in the region,” Kahn said.
Though Chikane claimed that the delegation listened to both sides of the conflict, during his press conference last week, he admitted that it hadn’t met Israeli representatives in spite of requesting that meetings be set up by the Israeli embassy. He wasn’t available for comment.