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 Levitas

Ben Levitas

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...

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