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Terrorist group praises Pandor for anti-Israel speech to UN

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Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor has been heavily criticised for “hijacking” one of the country’s most tragic events, Youth Day, to express solidarity with the Palestinians. Political commentators this week criticised her for expressing a “simplistic” and “biased” view of the Middle East conflict, while at the same time outrageously earning high praise for doing so by terror organisation Hamas.

The department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) minister drew on South Africa’s devastating past including the Soweto Youth Riots of 1976 to drive home the government’s message of solidarity with the Palestinians. She did this in a pre-recorded speech during a virtual meeting hosted by the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Hamas, which unreservedly seeks Israel’s destruction, applauded her for doing so.

Former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, tweeted, “What’s the highest accolade a diplomat can get? A Nobel Prize? @ForeignPolicy’s diplomat of the Year? How about a shout-out by a terror organisation! Congratulations [I guess] to South Africa’s Minister of @DIRCO, Naledi Pandor, for recognition by … Hamas”.

Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and other powers.

Following her anti-Israel speech to the UN committee, Hamas praised Pandor’s “call for the international community to hold the Israeli occupation to account for its ongoing crimes and violations against the Palestinian people for more than 73 years”.

It said her stance represented “a victory for the just Palestinian cause”.

Meanwhile political commentators have criticised the minister for her unbalanced and lopsided approach.

Professor Hussein Solomon of the department of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State said he didn’t believe Pandor’s statements were “helpful or useful”.

“Things aren’t as black and white, oppressor versus oppressed, as is made out by Naledi Pandor. There’s complexity, which she simplifies. Grey is the dominant colour, not black and white.”

Sara Gon from the Institute of Race Relations pointed out that Hamas, whose goal is to “ensure that the existence of Israel is terminated, no more and no less”, had issued a press release which “expressed pleasure at Pandor’s statements”.

“Hamas plans to create Palestine, consisting of the West Bank, Gaza, and all of Israel, to become an Islamic state”, she said, pointing out that Hamas didn’t “disguise its stated goal in rhetoric to appease the sensitivities of Western audiences. It’s in its founding document and the one that replaced it”.

Pandor drew on what she insisted were comparisons and parallels between the conflict in the Middle East and apartheid. This has elicited the ire of many who have criticised her for manipulating South Africa’s painful history to “score political points”.

Benji Shulman, the director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation, accused the minister of hijacking Youth Day, which celebrates the bravery of the 1976 generation.

“Has she no shame? To hijack Youth Day as she has done is unforgivable and deeply insulting to their memory,” Shulman said. “Her official comments on Youth Day are an affront to these young people – the lost generation.”

Pandor lambasted Israel, blaming it for all Palestinian suffering, showing scant regard for the complexities of the conflict, analysts said.

“The events and images the world has witnessed in the past month emerging from the occupied Palestinian territories evoke unpleasant memories of life under apartheid rule in South Africa,” Pandor said.

She claimed the images of Sheik Jarrah as well as violent clashes between armed security forces and “defenceless protestors” were reminiscent of events that took place in Sophiatown, District Six, the Sharpeville massacre, and the Soweto protests of 1976.

She compared the scenes of the 1976 riots and subsequent funerals that took place with the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She drew parallels with “our young, fallen heroes” and young Palestinian activists and prisoners whose youth, like that of South African freedom fighters, was “stolen from them”.

“We find semblance in our past with the Palestinian cause,” she said.

In what some political analysts have described as a “bizarre” move, Pandor accused the UN Security Council of “double standards” when it came to the Palestinian matter, and said South Africa remained “deeply concerned” in this regard.

“The council’s inability to act against Israel in spite of its willingness to act against other states is for us an illustration of the double standards and inconsistency in the work of the Security Council,” she said.

She implored UN member states and the international community to speak up and take action, as was done by the UN with apartheid.

At the tail end of her speech, she conceded that “the only way to peace” was to have an unconditional negotiated settlement leading to a two-state solution premised on a just settlement.

But as Gon said, it rang hollow.

“I believe Pandor’s statement clearly reflects the government’s position on the conflict. The bit about a two-state solution is a sop to international opinion. The African National Congress has close relationships with organisations like Hamas and Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions. It cares nothing for Israel and the complexities of the situation. Pandor’s words leave us in no doubt – she’s not a friend of Israel.”

The UN committee convened the “conversation” between Zeid Raad Al-Hussein, the former UN high commissioner for human rights and member of the elders; and Dr Agnѐs Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International.

According to the minister’s spokesperson, Lunga Ngqengelele, the Palestinian foreign ministry, through Dirco, asked Pandor to deliver a pre-recorded video message of solidarity in line with the theme “apartheid, international law, and the occupied Palestinian territory”.

Solomon said it “wasn’t good” that Hamas praised Pandor. “Forget about how Israel would feel about terrorists praising her, how would the Palestinian Authority feel? The bottom line is that she needs to be more measured in her response, especially on an issue so complex.

“If South Africa wants to act as a mediator, it needs to be perceived as impartial, and unbiased and statements like this won’t help,” he said.

There was also the issue of capacity. A country which couldn’t fill potholes, provide drinking water, or electricity to its citizens shouldn’t be projecting either hard or soft power 9 000km away, given the complexities and the lacklustre calibre of its diplomats, he said.

Shulman criticised Pandor’s comparisons with apartheid.

“Israel is a democracy, as opposed to apartheid South Africa, in which democratic rights were suppressed. In Israel, all citizens of all races and religions have equal representation in government and in all of society. The attempt to try and apply the apartheid label to Israel is disingenuous and dishonest,” he said.

Pandor’s comparisons between South African freedom fighters and Palestinian extremists were “disturbing and odious”, he said.

“Comparisons made between those who fought for freedom and who actively worked to limit any deaths of civilians cannot be compared with the deliberate targeting of ordinary Israeli women and children through terrorist actions by groups like Hamas.”

He pointed out that the minister’s calls for action against Israel failed to mention the human rights abuses occurring daily under the fundamentalist Hamas rule in Gaza, let alone in other parts of the world.

“Minister Pandor chooses to remain tepid on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the rest of the world loudly condemns. This glaring omission exposes the double standard against Israel and the minister’s transparent desire to attack Israel at any opportunity and exploit every circumstance.”

Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said Pandor’s personal obsession with Israel was obscuring her capacity to fulfil her role as an international minister.

“South Africa is becoming increasingly irrelevant in both the African and the international diplomatic world,” Milner said. “Furthermore, her rant against Israel is unlikely to change anything. Indeed, her disregard for the pain and suffering on both sides and her use of divisive language positions them alongside those who have no desire to see the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so long as the Jewish state continues to exist.”

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