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We are no longer placated by empty assurances

As loyal South Africans, who have made a disproportionate contribution to the well-being of South Africa, I and my colleagues at the Cape Board of the Zionist Federation, wish to voice our dissatisfaction with the consistent attacks on Israel’s internal policies, and on it alone being singled out for failure to reach an accord with the Arabs. Collins Chabane’s assurances that “government has not imposed a ban on travel to the State of Israel by government officials”, made on November 6, fly in the face of too many contrary statements from the African National Congress and its alliance partners. These assurances are too little, too late and do nothing to clarify or change the on-going travel ban.

While acknowledging and supporting the statements that the main Jewish organisations have already made, I wish to address the general climate of heightened intolerance that is directed at the only state that also happens to be Jewish.

The level of invective can be expected to increase in the lead up to the national elections. It is clear that the tripartite alliance, desperate to gain control of the Western Cape, and not lose Gauteng, is pursuing the large Muslim vote, and prepared to forego the small influence that Jews would have.

Already in February 2012, the then minister of arts and culture, speaking to the New Age newspaper, said the government has “no problem with supporting the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel”. While discouraging contact with Israel, the department of arts and culture proceeded to sign a cultural agreement between South Africa and “Palestine” and announced plans for South African artists and cultural entrepreneurs to participate in the South African Arts and Culture Week to be hosted in “Palestine”. The Israeli minister of arts and culture, who happened to be visiting South Africa privately around that time, was not accorded the same honours.

In mid-February, after a meeting was held in Cape Town with representatives of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and SA Zionist Federation, the minister of arts and culture clarified that, “notwithstanding certain remarks attributed to him by the media, neither he nor his government supported anti-Israel boycotts”.

Despite these assurances, in August 2012, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, told City Press that South Africa was “discouraging” its citizens from visiting Israel.

“Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel,” and “we discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process”.

In a tone consistent with the recent statements by Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the minister of international relations, Ebrahim went on to say that South African should “scale down” economic ties with Israel, but claimed that he was not advocating a full breakdown of relations between the countries. A planned trip to Israel by officials from the KwaZulu-Natal province was cancelled due to these government guidelines.

At that time Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies had drafted legislation that would require products made in the “West Bank” to be marked with a distinct label, to enable customers to differentiate between products that were made inside and outside Israel. The intended wording of the legislation displayed the minister’s inherent bias and agenda, as it wished to label products from Judea and Samaria, as products originating from “Palestinian occupied territories”.

The BDS Movement recorded on December 21 that “South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), at its 53rd National Conference, (in Mangaung) reaffirmed a resolution supporting the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel campaign”. This declaration was made by Lindiwe Zulu, a special adviser to President Jacob Zuma at that time, as it flowed from Resolution 39 (b), of the ANC’s October International Solidarity Conference and all its resolutions.

Marius Fransman, the deputy minister of international relations, in a Ramadan message to South Africa’s Muslims, clearly aimed at winning the support of the Muslim vote in the Western Cape, where he is also the leader of the ANC, stated emphatically that the government fully supported the Palestinian cause and its struggle for independence. This minister has subsequently, brazenly and dishonourably made a series of explicit anti-Jewish remarks, which are currently being heard at the Human Rights Court. Shamefully, there have been no official voices of disapproval from the government.

In October 2012, ANC chairperson and former deputy president Baleka Mbete reaffirmed the ANC’s support for sanctions and boycotts against Israel, with a strong statement that she has been to Palestine herself and that the Israeli regime is not only comparable but “far worse than apartheid South Africa”.

During this time, Cosatu’s leaders, including Zwelinzima Vavi and the leadership of the Communist Party, consistently called for boycotts of Israel and Israeli goods. At no time did the leadership of the ANC intervene to distance themselves from these calls or to request that they be curtailed in any way.

With the recent visits of Ebrahim to North Korea and calls for closer relations between South Africa and Iran, the disjuncture becomes all too apparent and irrational. Applauding Iran’s human-rights record, while finding fault with Israel’s, is delusional and insane. Limiting and restricting visits to Israel, while allowing and even encouraging visits and contacts with Palestinians, is discriminatory and excludes entirely, exposure to the Israeli narrative. This action implies that South African diplomats are not interested in hearing or being exposed to the Israeli perspective.

As Jews we wish to state emphatically that we are proud of Israel and its significance in our lives. Since its birth, Israel has struggled to survive in a hostile environment and this gives us hope and courage. Moreover Israel has thrived and is a shining example and model for the entire region. Israel has fought the colonialism of the Ottoman empire and subsequently the British empire, and succeeded to restore Jews to their land. The bonds of Jews to Israel, go back to the beginning of history, and attempts by any party to drive a wedge between Jews and Israel, will be resisted and are bound to fail.

Such mendacious policies, would be akin to trying to separate Muslims from Mecca and deserve to be treated with the same contempt. Such policies are repugnant, hurtful and anti-Semitic. Implying as Nkoana-Mashabane has done, that the Jewish community in some way condones these policies, is malicious, dishonest and completely without foundation. There is a widespread perception that Israelis are not welcome here, particularly if they have served in the military. Illustrative of this are attempts that have been made to arrest certain visiting Israelis. Certain venues, particularly on university campuses are positively considered to be out of bounds and unsafe for Israeli visitors. A case in point was the humiliating treatment heaped on an invited Israeli professor, Jeff Kantor, for refusing to denounce Israeli policies.

This constant stream of anti-Israel vitriol emanating from the highest levels of the tripartite alliance, is giving rise to a sense of impunity that all criticism of Israel, without any bounds, is permissible. This sense of “open season”, carries the risk of generating hate speech, examples of which have occurred at Wits and Cape Town universities, and this could translate into violence.

For Chabane, from the office of the Presidency, to dismiss the fears of Jewish South Africans as baseless, in view of this barrage of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish vitriol, is an insult to the intelligence of Jews and displays how out of touch with reality the Presidency is.

“The South African Jewish community should have nothing to fear,” he said. “We don’t consider them to be part of the Jewish state of Israel; they may be having part relationships but they are South Africans, they pay taxes like anyone; they vote here; they have been part of this country for a very long time; they contribute towards the development of the country, so they are part of us.”

For Jews to feel safe and for us to feel part of the “rainbow nation” it is time for the government to stop with these obfuscations and incriminatory policies and to desist from these attacks on our spiritual homeland. As citizens, we call on the government to state unequivocally, that it does not support the cause of one people above another and that it will pursue normal relations and stop interfering in the internal affairs of the state of Israel, as non-interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, is its stated policy with regard to every other country. A lesson that we have garnered from our long sojourn in the diaspora is that as long as Jews and our interests are treated exceptionally, then we will have reason to fear.


  • Ben studied at Wits, the Hebrew University, London School of Economics and University of Pretoria. He has two master’s degrees and has written four books on anthropology. He was the founding member of Jews for Justice, which took a stand against apartheid and provided assistance to victims of violence in Crossroads. He started Boston House College, a multiracial school in 1979. He currently serves as chairperson of the SA Zionist Federation in the Cape Council. He is married with four children.


  1. Tofolux Tofolux 14 November 2013

    @Ben, if I read this ‘debate’ I am reminded of the preamble of my beloved SOUTH AFRICAN constitution that clearly says that SOUTH AFRICA belongs to ALL who live in it…. that UNITED in our diversity’ etc etc etc. I say this because I believe that everything you moot in this ‘debate’ flouts all the principles and spirit of our Constitution. Now I wonder why someone would do that? Are you politicking or is the fear mongering part of what will come when you the campaign begins for well-we-know-who. You see, Ben this fear mongering has always been part of the overt and covert messaging. Remember rooi-gevaar and swart-gevaar? For me, a recipient of the oppression meted out by an oppressor, I wonder how you can call upon any of us to not support the Palestinians or any other nation who suffers under apartheid-like oppression? In fact you are asking the former oppressed to give a blanket assurance that we will never challenge an oppressor? I think you must be reminded of Rivonian trialists and ask who the prosecutor in that case was and how he pursued the trialists with such damning vigour. In fact, his actions fly in the face of all your claims of ‘sympathy’ to our own struggle for freedom. Hence why should we abandon those who are suffering the same misery we did? In fact, why are you not convincing the Israeli govt that their practices are inhumane and that you have first hand xperience of a suffering of a people and that the oppressed shall always overcome?

  2. Richard Richard 14 November 2013

    Just a couple of facts: Israel never defeated the Ottomans, they were defeated by the Allies (in the Middle East, the British) in WW1, which is when Israel was handed to Britain as a League of Nations territory to administer. It was never colonised by Britain, and thus was never a British colony. Surely you know this? It is basic history.

  3. Goodman Goodman 15 November 2013

    Right now the South African President and his delegation are in Sri Lanka – a country with one of the worst human rights records in the world. The disappearance of people and killing of journalists, lack of free press and many more human rights abuses calls for action on the part of the international community. Our President should not have been there in the first place but since he is there he must insist on an international independent investigation to look into what happened at the end of this very long, appalling civil war and the abuses that take place even today in Sri Lanka. Surely we expect more from South Africa’s participation in Chogm than merely wining and dining with one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

  4. Brent Brent 15 November 2013

    Tofolux, why do you only count the one person who was prosecutor and not the many many more Jews who for years were prominent in the leadership of the struggle against Apartheid, including standing with Mandela etc in the Rivonia trial. Seems you play the anti semitism card and not reason. Brent

  5. george orwell george orwell 15 November 2013

    For ‘loyal South Africans’ who champion the causes of their ‘spiritual homelands’ and lambaste those who dare to criticise their ‘homelands’, life must be difficult.

    I suppose South African Catholics who regard the Vatican as their ‘spiritual homeland’ would have a hard time glossing over the child abuse and financial shenanigans emanating from that small country – and would face similar cognitive dissonance

    I have sympathy for your viewpoint, Ben. You love your spiritual homeland and wish others would too. It pains you that people criticise your spiritual homeland.

    I do think, though, that people have to take criticism squarely on the chin.

    Liberal supporters of Israel fail to wring their hands over the airstrikes on Gaza or the bulldozer demolition of Palestinian homes.

    They assure us that they respect human rights and want peace.

    But why are settlements ongoing in occupied land? This amount to nothing more than a real estate “land grab ” and makes Israel look really bad and this is aside from the way The Wall craftily embraces Palestinian land.


  6. Charlotte Charlotte 15 November 2013

    @ Ben Levitas. Thank you for an honest, frank and well-written indictment of the ANC and its alliance partners, as far as the barrage of vitriol, intolerance and dishonest hate-speech levelled against Israel and the Jewish citizens of this country are concerned.

    @ Goodman and Brent. Very well expressed and points well made. I totally agree

    @ george orwell … Remember the statue?
    ‘The Wall’ does not ‘craftily embrace Palestinian land’. It provides necessary protection for Israeli citizens from persistent and pervasive attacks by indoctrinated, nefarious, hate-driven terrorism.

  7. bewilderbeast bewilderbeast 15 November 2013

    Ben, you should spend less time criticising people who criticise Israel and more time speaking to and listening to genuine decent Israelis who know of the injustices perpetrated by their homeland (their real homeland, not their “spiritual homeland”). And then (is this possible?) some time speaking to genuine Palestinians.

  8. I Sacks I Sacks 16 November 2013

    Well said Ben Levitas .Sadly “none so deaf as those who will not hear and none so blind as those who will not see”

  9. mundundu mundundu 16 November 2013

    and really, if the treatment of the arabs isn’t something to point out israel’s crap internal policies, can we point to israel’s treatment of african migrants, political and economic refugees, as well as those workers imported by israel to do the work that palestinians are by and large no longer permitted to do for “security reasons”?

    the bad treatment starts at the top, and permeates downward into society. if my parents, in a remote part of the us with lousy internet has seen some of these images and video of rallies in israel using nuremburg-ish language, surely you have too.

    i’m looking for any public statement condemning israel for the treatment of black [non-american] recent arrivals there, and google is failing me miserably. there is, not surprisingly, not one peep on your organisation’s pages about this as of the time i’m writing this. [go ahead, backdate and insert something if you want, but you’d be busted.]

    i’m going to need you to have a seat. |_

    [ps, that “walls” graphic on your page is straight comedy. most of those walls mentioned are indeed, by people who live in those areas, called “walls of shame”. that your org hasn’t bothered to actually research this shows an indication of just how one-sided you are. tsk tsk]

  10. bernpm bernpm 17 November 2013

    With all due respect, you make the same mistake as you accuse the ANC of making: uttering a one sided and generalized opinion on an ANC stand in a fairly complicated matter.
    My early sympathy for Israel (1944/1960) was very much reduced by Israel’s behavior during the years after the 6 day war. Israel became seemingly arrogant towards its neighbors in the knowledge that mighty Uncle Sam was behind them.

    The perception of today’s Israel seems that of a nation led by arrogant and hostile leaders, not interested in peace with their neighbors other than on their own terms. Some of my Jewish acquaintances (luckily not all) confirm this perception when exploring realities behind opinions.
    What could be an interesting discussion becomes a one sided tirade. My response? Retire and avoid a repeat. If loosing some friends in the process is the consequence…… be it,:


  11. george orwell george orwell 18 November 2013

    @ Charlotte – The Wall is illegal.

    Here’s what the International Court has to say about it:

    I have read reports and seen maps showing the Wall does NOT stick to the legal co-ordinates.

    That’s like me building a garden wall with my neighbours – who are a nasty, violent, despicable lot, to be frank – and shifting the wall at certain points to incorporate a metre or three of their property.

    I dunno – is that not a land grab, by any other name?

  12. george orwell george orwell 18 November 2013

    Ben, you talk of “heightened intolerance” towards Israel but one has to be careful, then, that intolerance *within* the country does not ring hypocritical?

    Here is an article worth reading about the treatment of Africans in Israel, ranging from forced contraceptive injections to xenophobic attacks on shops. The facts are laid out in this article, so don’t take my word for it, read for yourself:

    “Israel’s Other Silent War”

  13. Kanthan Pillay Kanthan Pillay 18 November 2013


    Operative Paragraph One “Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
    (i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
    (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

    If Israel plays by those rules, I will be first in line to support her.

    I wish you all well.

  14. Gideon78 Gideon78 19 November 2013

    @Kanthan Pillay….do you see the (ii) that you referenced? Now that statement is directed at all parties involved…including Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and of course the Palestinians and pretty much the whole of the Arab and Persian Nations.

    From the Khartoum Summit in 1967…where the Arab League passed a resolution peace with Israel…no recognition of Israel …. no negotiation with Israel. This resolution is affirmed at every Arab League Summit. However Egypt and Jordan are not apart of that resolution as they stopped their state of belligerency toward Israel and made peace.

    While the Palestinians continue to perpetrate acts of belligerency towards Israel they are violating UNSC242 themselves.

    Then your (i) statement the term occupied territories…in order for something to be occupied it had to have existed…in 1980 Jordan rescinded all claims to the West Bank and Jerusalem. around the same time Egypt did the same thing…therefore if anything it would be occupied Egypt and Occupied Jordan and not Occupied Palestine…after all the Arabs in those territories were either Egyptian or Jordanian until that time. Therefore from history occupation does not exist.

    Then again in 1995 Israel withdrew and placed the PLO in charge of 99% of Palestinians…seems to me that Israel was on the road to implementing UN242 unilaterally and what happened a few years later? suicide bombs and so on…almost 7000 people dead on both sides…ignorant to the…

  15. Gideon78 Gideon78 19 November 2013

    @George Orwell, first of all the ICC never had jurisdiction to give that legal opinion. If you read the report, the authors say they got jurisdiction from the UNGA…however if you look at that UNGA meeting they refer to, there is no calling for an ICC opinion…however in the UNGA session they did pass a resolution that the barrier was illegal….now logically do you not ask for an opinion before you make a decision? Will the UNGA never did this…they made their mind up before any legal consideration was taken into account…therefore the report by the ICC is meaningless.

    If you look at the rulings by the ISraeli Supreme Court, which is one of the most revered judicial systems in the world, came to the conclusion that because it is temporary, that it is perfectly legal.

    In any future peace deal the barrier can be moved. Noting that many cases that have been brought to the Israeli Supreme Court found the State in problems and they were ordered to move the barrier. Look at the anti-Israel documentary five broken cameras for proof of this…recorded proof!

    Next only 10% of the barrier is concrete slabs and not a wall. those concrete slabs can be moved in a matter of hours…the rest of the barrier is electronic fence which can be uprooted in a matter of hours to be moved.

  16. Gideon78 Gideon78 19 November 2013

    @George Orwell

    As for your analogy….just one huge problem you omit…using the same analogy…both houses belong to the same owner and it is the owner building the garden wall…. so therefore no land grabbing is possible as tenants do not have the same rights as owners.

    After all until a true peace deal is signed none of the land belongs to the Palestinians. It all belongs to Israel. Israel won the land fair and square in a war that was started by the Arabs. Just remember Jordan only entered the 1967 war 2 or 3 days into the war and lost Jerusalem and the West Bank. Egypt lost Gaza almost immediately.

    As for the other smoking guns of xenophobia and forced contraceptives…the forced contraceptives were actually run as forced sterilisations and were the account of 4 Ethiopian Jews and not African migrants. 4 accounts is hardly newsworthy…then the fact that all these Ethiopian women have children…is another fact that proves the whole story to be false. After all how many children are forced to take contraceptives by their parents? Yet you are silent about those cases and which millions of them happen in SA. What about Xenophobia…what about Xenophobia in Africa, in Asia, in the Arab World, US, Australia and and and…yet you are silent about that….however when it comes to Israel then you point a finger as if ISrael is the only country that has these problems… Just proves beyond a reasonable doubt your hypocrisy and your hatred!
    Only Israel can do wrong…

  17. george orwell george orwell 20 November 2013

    Gideon: “however when it comes to Israel then you point a finger as if ISrael is the only country that has these problems”

    Where did I say that Israel is the “only” country that has these problems?
    Please don’t put words into my mouth.
    The topic here is “israel”, thus I talk about Israel.

    Why is one always accused of “hatred” when one dares to comment on Israel?
    I have criticised the Vatican on more than one Catholic site and have never been accused of “hatred.”

    You offer a long defence of why Israel should ignore the ICC.

    In that case, Iran, North Korea and other countries should also be allowed to lauch convoluted defences against international law.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    Either international law exists and applies to all – or it doesn’t.

  18. Gideon78 Gideon78 21 November 2013

    @George Orwell, Dont try your diversion tactics with me. Your opinion of the root of the conflict is flawed to the max. Simple looking at the facts and what is actually happening in reality as a 1st person account, will show you the truth.

    As for the ICC, prove me wrong and show me that my version is incorrect and then I will be the first person to admit mistake, however if you are unable to prove what I said was incorrect then you will have to concede to being misinformed on this subject…then that should light up a red light and make you wonder about what else have you been misinformed about.

    However if you are willing to base your opinion on baseless accusations then unfortunately trying to say hatred has no part of it, is a lie.

    As for North Korea and Iran…North Korea has the right to do what it wants it revoked its participation with regards to the NPT, while Iran on the other hand is bound by the protocols it has signed with regards to the NPT.

    Currently Iran is on the borderline of violating the NPT. It is at the same point North Korea was when negotiations were taking place to stop its nuclear program…they thought they succeeds and a year later NK revoked its signature of the NPT and had their first nuclear weapons test.

    When a country is allowed so close to violating a treaty, it must be stopped at all costs…before it is too late. Iran is responsible for global terror, imagine the next bomb is a nuclear one in cpt..jnb…nyc…paris…UK. It…

  19. 00Sleven 00Sleven 21 November 2013

    A shinning example of the region?? Have you heard Netanyahu speak lately??

  20. Gideon78 Gideon78 21 November 2013

    @George Orwell.

    Please indicate which laws Israel is breaking?
    UNGA resolutions are non-binding. UNSC resolutions are in some cases unenforceable.

    The UN is not allowed to demarcate borders and all resolutions have a paper trail to UNSC242 which states ” Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;”

    While the Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and whoever wants to destroy Israel is not adhering to this statement, it can not be unilaterally instituted by Israel. If you look at the unilateral steps that Israel has done in the past…has that brought us any closer to peace?

    Why is it that when peace talks are on the go there is an increase of violence towards Israelis? Why is the rhetoric of the Palestinian leaders worse than ever? BTW none of it is condemned…just 2 weeks ago Israel released prisoners the next day an Israel was killed by a Palestinian who violated his work permit conditions…then Israel is lambasted for inconveniencing people trying to cross from the territories into Israel…if these Palestinians were not sending suicide bombers, murders through the check points then there would be a reason for the barrier or the check point, however that is not the reality.

    You are very ignorant to the reality of…

  21. Mr. Direct Mr. Direct 21 November 2013


    You are turning the story around to suit the Israeli perspective.

    The Six day war did not give Israel the right to annex land.

    The International convention “Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land. The Hague, 18 October 1907” which were “by 1939 these rules … were recognized by all civilized nations and were regarded as being declaratory of the laws and customs of war.”

    This convention clearly states the rights of citizens in war, and clearly Israel have not accepted/adopted/conformed to this convention.

    For your reference, a few articles:

    “Art. 25. The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.”

    “Art. 46. Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.”

    The problem is that Israel uses the lack of recognition to argue that it is not at war, but uses the basis of war to justify occupation. It also uses non conformance in international treaties to ignore the rest. It simply uses what is in it’s best interests to maintain the status quo.

    I see no reason for South Africa to maintain diplomatic ties with a country that excludes itself from the international understanding of fair play in self interest and self gain.

  22. Mbuanza Mbuanza 12 December 2013

    Angola has healthy relations with Israel, and Jews are most welcome in the country.

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