Nelson Mandela South Africa billboard .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is thinking of outlawing dual citizenship – that is, banning its citizens from possessing both South African and Israeli passports. For now at least, the move is exclusively anti-Jewish, but it plainly may not stay so.
South Africa, it needs be stressed, has proportionally only a minuscule Jewish community; its diverse population includes many minorities far larger than the Jewish one.
The initiative was spawned by the head of the ANCs National Executive Committee on International Relations, Obed Bapela, notorious for his anti-Israel vehemence.
There is no way of telling whether Bapela is familiar with Martin Niemöller, Germany’s leading 20th century anti-Nazi theologian, who famously said post-World War II: “Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.... When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”
Niemöller’s point is one that Bapela would do well to consider, assuming he is at all remotely troubled by pangs of conscience and moral introspection.
But beyond the issue of Bapela’s personal scruples or lack thereof, lie the interests of others in South Africa’s ethnic/racial mosaic. If Bapela manages to single out Jews, the breach to the national constitution would leave most minority groupings exposed and vulnerable. Down the line, there is no telling who may be suspect of what using the same uneven scales.
On the face of it, Bapela can feign innocence and deny an anti-Jewish or even anti-Israel agenda. His aim, he asserts, is merely to prevent South African citizens from holding Israeli passports in addition to their South African ones and thus potentially being conscripted to IDF service or volunteering for it. The issue, hectors Bapela, is one of dual loyalty.
Again, Bapela may not be aware of the historical context, but this canard is ancient and precedes even the infamous forgery of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Nonetheless, the time-worn slander endures and remains the favorite tool of anyone seeking to settle scores with the Jewish state. Dual-loyalty nuances were even dredged up in America’s debate over the Iran nuclear deal.
The ANC General Council is due to deliberate on Bapela’s motion in October. Also on the ANC lineup is Bapela’s onslaught on business ties with Israeli firms by South Africa’s private sector.
Unsettled by yet another illustration of the ANC’s and official South Africa’s increasingly unbridled animus toward Israel, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federations issued a joint statement censuring Bapela’s inimical scheme.
Bapela “undermined the very core value of South Africa’s democracy by proposing a change to our law purely to prevent one sector of our society, in this case, South African Jews, from having a relationship with Israel,” they charge.
The South African Jewish groups are unsure about how deep support for Bapela’s controversial move runs – whether it is merely the pet project of ANC extremists or it is countenanced by wider ANC circles including President Jacob Zuma. The lack of clarity further diminishes Jewish South Africans’ sense of security.
South Africa’s Jewish community is less than half its size of 40 years ago and its today are leery of criticizing the government much, lest they be accused of racism.
Hence, in fairly restrained tones, the Jewish organizations argue that “this unfortunate political grandstanding by Bapela is motivated by his own narrow understanding of the Middle East conflict, which is based on religious fundamentalism and the BDS lobby within the ANC, and we would hope that it in no way reflects the views of the ANC. This is not the first time that Bapela has attacked the Jewish community and its leadership.”
The groups accused Bapela of displaying “classic anti-Semitism” by questioning South African Jews’ loyalty and belligerently agitating against Jewish businesses.
But it is not only Bapela. The degree to which the ANC has departed from its traditions is disheartening. The irony is that Jews were always liberal as no other whites in South African politics, especially in the Progressive Party and the ANC, whose liberation manifestos they helped author.