SA-Israel relations survive dire jeopardy
Had the “unparliamentary meeting” of ANC-only members have gone by unnoticed on Wednesday, it could have resulted in catastrophic consequences. However, this was scheduled to be an a mere ANC meeting and any decisions would have to be dealt with in terms of parliamentary protocols, in open debate with all parties, once it had been placed on the order paper.
SA is considered to be the beneficiary of a healthy and fast-growing trade surplus with Israel and enjoys the largesse of many services from that country. Should the ANC parliamentary majority manage to get such a motion to cut ties with Israel passed, big job losses through Israeli manufacturing firms forced to shut down, would be one of the many negative consequences.
While the big majority of the ANC would be able to bulldoze through any anti-Israel decision, it must be stressed that the ANC and governments are not always synonymous. Many other considerations are in play; you don’t have to “like” a country to have good trade relations with it.
According to Advocate Anton Alberts of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), numerous parliamentary rules – on legal and gentlemanly grounds – were bypassed in an attempt to behave in a “very naughty” manner.
RIGHT: Freedom Front Plus veteran MP Advocate Anton Alberts’ quick thinking, and having a Jewish Affairs desk, saved the day.
Speaking to JR Online, Alberts, who sits on the Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Industry, was livid. The further he interrogated the “strange happenings”, he says, the more transparent the actions of the plotters became.
What exactly happened?
Several key opposition MPs told JR Online that they believed the ANC had tried to move the Middle Eastern discussion from Parliament, where it belonged, to the ANC as a party.
The invitation, which was circulated at the last moment, was from the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on International Relations and Co-operation, ANC MP Siphosezwe Masango and, basically, said that: “A petition received from the South African Coalition 4 Palestine, an NGO, demanded that the Parliament must ensure, inter alia, the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, a total boycott of goods and the imposition of economic sanctions on Israel.
“The meeting is convened to fashion out a collective Parliamentary response to the Coalition 4 Palestine,” concluded the invitation.
The meeting was to be convened in the National Council of Provinces Building, in the southern wing of the Parliamentary precinct. Alberts believes that this was “designed to ensure that not many opposition parties would be there”. But as it was an ANC initiative, it is not sure whether opposition MPs would actually have been welcomed.
Alberts says that the entire process was so unparliamentary that “we don’t even know where the mandate came from to address this meeting”.
Why was this so out of order?
The meeting was to be held, says Alberts, where only the ANC heads of the Parliamentary Committees were expected to attend. They would hear a petition, directly, from an NGO which “concerned drastic steps to be taken against the state of Israel,” said Alberts.
“We found this very strange and irregular,” he told JR Online. An NGO, he says, can’t just address a request to have a meeting to the chairman of a parliamentary committee.
RIGHT: A copy of the notice of the meeting which was dated 18 October but delivered on 25 October
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has traditionally and openly spoken for Israel and SA Jewry – and even changed their constitution to allow Jewish membership.
Over the past two years, first the Congress of the People (Cope) changed its constitution to recognise Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, and, more recently, the FF+ has opened an Jewish Affairs desk which is under the purview of Sidney Anolek.
Even the DA, traditionally a party that kept as far away from the Middle East question as possible, has become more open to discussing matters on their merits.
“This whole process as far as I am concerned was a sham,” says Alberts. He plans to “have it noted” during Friday’s Parliamentary Committee on Trade and Industry.
It was as a direct result of Alberts’ hunch that the meeting was aborted – for now at least.
Three things had concerned him:
The parliamentary “notice of the meeting was dated October 18, but was only delivered to us only on October 25”. This was the first time that he had ever seen this in his years in Parliament. Secondly, said Alberts on Tuesday: “Tomorrow the Minister of Finance will submit the mini-budget and this meeting is scheduled right before this event takes place.” This, he explains, meant that many MPs, particularly opposition party MPs, would “not be able to join the meeting and provide inputs”.
Added to the low expectation of MP-presence due to the delayed notice and budget framework speech, Alberts contacted his party’s Israel desk, as the discussion was about breaking ties with Israel. On being told that it was Succot the men were suddenly thrust in a quandary as they had to get hold of Jewish communal leaders.
“I realised that this whole thing was designed and planned to exclude Jewish interests,” Alberts said on Thursday, and that MPs would be distracted due to the budget speech.
“Besides the gravity of the content” of this notice on the Israel discussion, Alberts said: “I had a few problems with the manner in which this was orchestrated.”
Communal systems swung into action. As the greater good of working on Yomtov had to be recognised, JR Online does not wish to credit those who worked while we davened.
How could this have even happened?
It shouldn’t have happened, says Alberts. Purely on administrative justice rule, he says, “every party that may be affected must be present”. This is known as “audi alterem partem” – loosely translated meaning that the other side must also be heard, he explains.
Alberts believes that ANC party figures (the Luthuli House contingent), hatched a plan to illicitly pull the rug from under all other parties’ and committees’ feet – and redirect the discussion to an all-ANC environment.
Tired of the country’s executive arm (the ANC Cabinet) and the multi-party parliamentary committees (all chaired by ANC MPs) refusing to act on Luthuli House’s promises against Israel, they seemed to have hatched a plan to illicitly pull the rug from under all other parties, thereby, he says, breaking the rules and regulations of South Africa’s multi-party democracy,
State Capture & theft of purview
What very nearly happened – taking the discussion of SA cutting all ties between itself and Israel from Parliament to Luthuli House – was what Alberts calls “a clever ruse.
Luckily, the “ruse” was detected by the eagle-eyed MP with a Jewish Affairs desk at his disposal.
Why try such a risky venture?
For many years, there has been differing camps in the ANC regarding the question of Israel and Palestine. It started out relatively simply as the ANC Alliance way of thinking and the more pragmatic Executive way of thinking.
This created a situation where Luthuli House, Cosatu House (where the anti-Israel lobbyists have their offices) and the SA Communist Party could and would make all sorts of anti-Israel promises to the likes of the US NGO BDS – but the government would never act on them.
This was because of many reasons, including that:
- SA was enjoying enormous trade growth, with surpluses in its favour, from its relations with Israel – as well as considerable assistance with a host of services and research;
SA had been asked on two occasions by PA President Mahmoud Abbas while in the country NOT to impose trade bans on Israel as it would negatively affect his people;
SA has seen economic benefit from export jobs in SA to SA workers being employed at Israeli factories in this country.
- Tourism from Israel has grown exponentially and represents over half of all Middle East tourism to SA; and
Having sat on the Parliamentary Committee (PC) for Foreign Relations and Co-operation for longer than Jacob Zuma has occupied the presidency, the ACDPs Cheryllyn Dudley MP is also becoming disheartened.
In representing the only openly pro-Israel party, The African Christian Democratic Party in Parliament, Dudley is a close observer of SA/Israeli affairs.
“South Africa’s foreign policy is very wisely one of refusing to set itself up as the policeman of the world,” she told JR Online. She says if SA had to do this, “we may find ourselves having to cut ties with China, the US, etc. Our experience was in finding each other and we see our role internationally in the same way.
“As important it is for SA to keep relations with all parties,” said Dudley, “we do not see any solution in a situation where one country would wish to annihilate another.”
She believes that South Africa is sadly discriminating in the way it manages its international relations in the Middle East.. READ HER ACCOUNT POSTED WEDNESDAY.
She has referred to the media conference at ORT Airport as a trap set for SA Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane, and has appealed to the Minister of Foreign Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
“Most of us know the ambassador to be a man, not only loyal to his country and the government that sent him, but personally supportive of Palestinian freedoms,” Dudley said in her appeal.
The Minister has been charged by the PC for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, to investigate the veracity of allegations against two South African ambassadors, Ngombane being one of them.
Why was legality so questionable?
An irate Advocate Alberts said:
“If the meeting went ahead with only ANC members attending,” as he suspects was the plan, he says, “it would have been and abuse of Parliament as a constitutional institution by a single party for its own purposes.”
He says he has no doubt, and is happy to go on the record as saying, that the perpetrators’ intention was to “create a façade,” of legitimacy. “It was clearly a sham!” he says. “It was stealth, definitely, there are so many whys and no answers,” he says.
“If you consider the contents (of the discussion) this is a very serious; a very, very serious matter,” he says. “What worried me so much was that this organisation (NC4P) had been given an audience irregularly!”
If the ANC members wanted to hold a meeting with the anti-Israel lobbyists, he says, as “a single party structure,” they should have obeyed the rules and held their meeting outside of Parliament.
What could have happened at the meeting?
Should the plotters’ plans not gone awry, says Alberts, the meeting could not have made what would ultimately have to be an executive decision. But it could have “made a decision in a very irregular manner” to move the discussion to, say, Luthuli House.
He believes that it may well have been designed to do just that. This would mean that the normal procedure, whereby “the Executive would take the initial action”, would have been bypassed and instead of Parliament making recommendations to the minister to take to Cabinet, the ANC as a party would – thereby bypassing Parliament.
However, adds Alberts, it is no simple matter to break off relations with a country. “We have treaties with Israel,” her says, and “Parliament has to ratify all treaties, or changes to treaties”. He refers to the recent British vote to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit. “If you want to impose sanctions you would have to submit a bill to Parliament and follow procedure,” he says.
“This is all highly irregular, it was intended a sham to look objective” to an audience later on.
Opposition Parties prepared to make input
Alberts reported that when he arrived, the doors stood closed and two lonely Parliamentary officials were there to greet him and advise him that the meeting had been cancelled due to the MPs having to meet with ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe ahead of the mid-term budget debate.
The ACP’s Dudley said when she went to the committee room in the NCOP Building at 12:00 on Wednesday – where the meeting was going to be held – her colleagues in the International Relations Committee and committee support staff informed her that the Chair of the PC and the ANC PC Whip had been called to a meeting with the Secretary General of the ANC and the scheduled meeting was postponed.
She said that although she “was prepared to attend the meeting and was ready to make relevant input,” it had not been necessary after all.
As a member of the International Relations Committee, she told JR Online, she “would follow-up in order to determine how the issue of BDS demands would be dealt with.”
Dudley said this is a sensitive issue and that it will not help to politicise the matter or make ill-informed assumptions.
Dudley distanced herself from Alberts’ comments on the issue, she said, as she said he was not a committee member and therefore out of touch with how the fragile SA/Israel relations were best handled.
“The strong ANC party support for Palestine makes the issue of BDS demands a serious matter for the majority party,” said Dudley, and “great wisdom is going to be needed by those with the authority and numbers to influence decisions.”
She appealed to opposition parties “not to play politics on this issue.”
Is it all over? May there be another attempt?
Alberts would have felt a sense of “naches” for a job well done. But he does not feel satisfied. “We are very upset about this hypocritical stance of the ANC,” he said. “They create an impression of being a human rights organisation which takes a high moral stand on issues and they will soon find themselves being shown up by the world that they are not.
“You can’t sign or change treaties without following procedure,” he emphasises. “There is a physical and psychological diversity in this country,” he says, and the ANC is against minorities and human rights. The FF+, he says, “aim to try and create a pushback of their aggressive stance towards Israel and the local Jewish community”.
The FF+ has decided to “open relations with Israel and we have told Government that we cannot punish a nation for protecting themselves. And all the time the ANC waxes lyrical about human rights.”
What can be done to stop a future attempt?
Letters are being addressed to Speaker of Parliament by opposition parties and Jewish communal interest groups this week, objecting to the manner in which this was handled and to be allowed the opportunity of exercising its audi alterem partem rights in future.
The ANC had been asked to comment on this article but had not done so the time we went to press. Any response will be published as an update.