Rishon LeZion mayor takes down SA flag
The mayor of Rishon LeZion, Raz Kinstlich, made a big show on Sunday, 28 January, of taking down the South African flag in the city’s Garden of Leadership, where it has been flown for years.
It was one of 32 national flags that flew in the garden in the city, just 8km south of Tel Aviv.
“There are flags that aren’t welcome in my city,” Kinstlich said, while taking the flag down in the video. “I won’t allow this flag to fly in Rishon LeZion. After this same country accused us of genocide after the massacre of October 7. We won’t forget or forgive. As I said, we won’t let anyone against our people be in our city.”
Kinstlich dismantles the flag himself before it falls to the ground in the video that was posted by Israel’s Channel 12.
The statement was made with the backdrop of the South African government taking Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for alleged genocide in the war against Hamas.
African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General Fikile Mbalula forwarded the video on X, claiming it was removed by “the occupation” in implementing the mayor’s wishes following the ICJ lawsuit.
The Garden of Leadership holds tributes to Israel’s former leaders as well as a section showcasing the countries that voted in favour of United Nations Resolution 181 to end the British mandate and establish the state of Israel. In this garden, the South African flag was flown alongside Sweden, France, the United States, and Canada.
“After October 7,when we experienced some of our toughest moments as a nation, the rules changed,” the mayor said. “We won’t apologise for the fact that we’re exercising our fundamental right to defend ourselves and our existence, and those who act or will act against the state of Israel won’t be allowed to exist either in our consciousness or on the pages of history.
“Therefore, we’ve decided that the flag of South Africa that has flown until now together with the flags of the 32 countries that voted in favour of establishing a Jewish state in 1947 will be removed immediately. Zero tolerance towards those who seek to harm us. Our hope isn’t lost yet. Am Yisrael Chai! [the people of Israel live].”
Moriah Malkah, the spokesperson for the municipality of Rishon LeZion, told the SA Jewish Report, “Israel is in one of its most difficult times. On October 7, 2023, thousands of Israeli men and women were murdered, burned, raped, and tortured in brutal hate crimes by the terrorist organisation Hamas.
“If after everything that has been done to us, the country of South Africa still decided to file a petition against us at the ICJ in The Hague for committing war crimes, for us, South Africa is no longer a friend.
“It’s not worthy that we raise your flag in the city of Rishon LeZion,” she said. “Those who show such opacity towards an entire people don’t deserve to be recognised. That’s why we decided to take down the flag that was placed in our city. The state of Israel has the right to defend itself against those who try to destroy it. I hope peaceful days will come and bring justice to the Jewish people soon.”
South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) spokesperson Rolene Marks said, “The SAZF is concerned about the ANC secretary general’s response to the removal of the South African flag, particularly his reference to Israel as ‘the occupation’, a term often used in Hamas’s rhetoric and by extremists who deny Israel’s right to exist. Mbalula’s choice of words is a clear alignment with Hamas’s genocidal viewpoint, framing the conflict in a manner that Israel isn’t a legitimate state. This stance reflects the ANC government’s failed attempts to shield Hamas at the ICJ and delegitimise Israel’s right to self-defence.”
Sara Gon, head of strategic engagement at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), said the incident could be seen as Rishon’s mayor tarring all South Africans with the same brush, but she didn’t believe it was.
“It’s a protest against the ANC-led government’s response – or the lack thereof – to the 7 October attacks, the antisemitism that has been engendered by the government’s embrace of Hamas and its cause, and of course the referral to the ICJ to declare Israel guilty of committing genocide against the Palestinians.”
IRR head of policy research, Anthea Jeffery, said in an article published on 31 January, “The political importance of the genocide accusation explains why South Africa opted to rely on the ‘wrong’ international convention in its application to the ICJ. What’s more difficult to understand is why the ICJ didn’t acknowledge that the Genocide Convention isn’t intended to deal with civilian deaths in times of conflict, and why it followed South Africa’s lead in ignoring the vital distinction between the horrors of war and the horrors of genocide.
“The removal [of the flag] is a symbolic protest against the government’s actions, and South African Jews will understand and possibly even support him,” Gon said. “It will go up again when the ANC is removed from power, possibly in the election in May 2024.”