Ben Levitas
Ben Levitas

The Jewish-Christian link in SA elections

Elections due for early 2014, are shaping up to be South Africa’s most hotly contested. A critical array of issues, such as unemployment levels in excess of 40% and still rising, poor delivery of basic services, police brutality, on-going rolling labour unrest, chronic government corruption and a stalling economy are vital to every population group.

There are currently 13 political parties represented in parliament, although the ruling party, the African National Congress, and its allies, the South African Communist party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which is not a political party, hold just shy of two thirds of the seats. The Democratic Alliance, which controls 67 seats in the National Assembly is the official opposition. The ANC controls eight of the country’s nine provinces, with the exception of the Western Cape, where the Democratic Alliance won the majority in the 2009 elections. In the Western Cape the ANC has launched an early make or break political campaign, appealing through its anti-Israel rhetoric, to the large Muslim population, to redirect support from the DA to enable them to gain control of this province. The ANC also controls five of the six metropolitan municipalities.

What is of particular significance for Jewish citizens, is that the ANC and its tripartite allies have officially endorsed Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. They are the first non-Arab or Muslim state to take such a strong principled stand against Israel. Its apartheid legacy, grants South Africa a hallowed place among people struggling against racism, slavery and ethnic discrimination. The persistence of prominent South Africans, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, associating Israel with “apartheid” type policies, makes South Africa the “ground zero” for the BDS movement. The aim of the BDS activists is to isolate Israel from the family of nations, in order to weaken it, and ultimately to destroy it, as happened to “apartheid South Africa”.

Out of the whole spectrum of political parties, only two small parties propound pro-Israel policies. They are the Inkatha Freedom Party with 18 seats in the National Assembly led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, which draws its support largely from Zulu-speaking South Africans, residing in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. The other is the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) with three seats in the National Assembly, down from six in 1999. It is led by the Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, with impeccable credentials as a struggle hero against apartheid.

Although the ACDP was formed in December 1993 with the aim of representing South African Christians in Parliament, it has largely failed to gain traction with the nearly 80% of South Africans that profess to be Christian. For the upcoming elections the ACDP has broadened its appeal to attract voters subscribing to Judeo-Christian values. Although at first glance it is unlikely that a Christian party will attract Jewish voters, and even if it succeeds, Jews represent less than half of one percent of the voters, the party has its eyes on the Christian Zionists who represent more than half the electorate. The Jewish community has well established links with many of these Christian Zionist groups and they can vouch for the principled pro-Israel stand that has been adopted by the ACDP. Illustrative of this posture, the ACDP can point to the many debates in Parliament, like when the ANC moved a motion that condemned Israel for the loss of Palestinian lives during the conflict in the Middle East. Speaking out against this motion, Rev Meshoe called for the “disbanding and disarming of Lebanese (Hezbollah) and non-Lebanese militias”.

On June 6 2007 in response to a draft resolution printed by the ANC calling for a debate on “the arrest and detention of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council”, Rev Meshoe said “the ACDP will not support the printed reprehensible draft resolution that ignores the history of the Middle East that did not start in 1967. We will support the honourable Douglas Gibson’s (from the DA) call upon the United Nations and all countries of goodwill to exert pressure on both Israel and Palestine to sit down together at the negotiating table … ”

On October 23 2001 during the Report of the Parliamentary fact finding Mission to Israel and Palestine, Meshoe stated that: “One of the serious omissions is that there is no mention of the historical and the religious Jewish link with the land of Israel. Instead, the historical overview begins in 1922, as if there was no Jewish connection to the Israel/Palestine prior to this date. Nowhere in the report is it stated why the land of Israel has been and continues to be of such significance to the Jewish people all over the world. The history of Israel that we read about in the Bible relates to events that took place hundreds of years before 1922. The report should have recognised this important fact. The issue of Jerusalem for example, is linked in the Bible to Israel and Judah. This fact has not been acknowledged. If we want to succeed in promoting peaceful co-existence between Israel and Palestine, then all historical and archaeological facts must be taken into consideration.”

When the third international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine took place in Cape Town in November 2011, it intended holding its hearings in Parliament — symbolically the very place where apartheid laws were promulgated. It was largely through the intervention of Steve Swart of the ACDP, that these plans were stymied.

When on December 21 2012 the ANC voted to make BDS of Israel its official policy, the ACDP responded;

“ Firstly … our support for and defence of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders, which will include defending its citizens whenever they are attacked by their enemies such as Hamas. Secondly, the ACDP will encourage and lobby countries to formalise ties with Israel and reject (the) BDS campaign.”

Following the publication of the general notice by the minister of trade and industry, Rob Davies, of “labelling of products from Occupied Palestinian territory, wrongly labelled as originating in Israel”, in May 2012, Meshoe initiated a protest march against this fatally flawed proposed legislation. The March was supported by 2 000 Christians and Jews who marched outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria to the department of trade and industry, where they handed over a memorandum from the ACDP and the IFP to the minister.

The presence on this march of a wide cross-section of Christians, including members of the Shembe Church, shook the tripartite alliance. While Jews could be side-lined, ignored and disregarded the strength of the voting power of their Christian allies, stirred Patrick Craven from Cosatu to accuse the Zionists of “having blood on their hands”.

The ACDP has announced its intention to field its first Jewish candidate for Parliament.

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