(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel acted with good reason in refusing South African Minister for Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande entry into the country last week. Nzimande actively activated and propagated the severing of links between the University of Johannesburg and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
Nelson Mandela accepted an honorary doctorate from this Israeli university, specifically for the groundbreaking work that the university was doing in Africa. BGU leads the world in combating desertification and in finding solutions to agriculture under harsh conditions. It leads the world in water purification and in combating food supply issues. Until relations were severed, Israel was helping South Africa with infrastructure projects and with finding solutions to food security. So while those advocating sanctions won this battle, South Africa’s war to increase food supplies suffered a huge setback. Moreover, BGU stands far higher in international rankings than does the University of Johannesburg, and the spiteful boycott will certainly hurt our local institution more than the Israeli institution.
By calling for the boycotting of all Israeli institutions Nzimande certainly deserves the opprobrium of those of his countrymen who seek only positive solutions to the problems we all face. There can be no justification for an education minister calling for such a boycott, and all the steps Israel has taken to counter his agenda are entirely understandable and justified.
Nzimande has overstepped the line of protocol with the slanderous remarks he has made in many of his speeches, accusing Israel of committing “massacres” and “genocide.” While his support of the Palestinians is understandable, his focus only on Israel’s alleged actions and not on Palestinian provocations is entirely unjustified and weakens his case. While the whole Middle East is in flames, and genocide against Christians and other minorities is rampant and pursued as deliberate policy, Nzimande is silent. In Syria alone the number of deaths exceeds, by over 20 times, the number of lives lost in the entire history of the Israel/Palestinian conflict, and the number of refugees exceeds by five times the number of Palestinians that became refugees following Israel’s creation.
Nzimande overlooks completely the fact that Israel is the only bastion in the whole Arab world and Middle East that is a true democracy, which protects minority rights. Arabs have full democratic rights to vote, and 12% of the parliamentarians are Arab. Arabs hold positions as judges, generals, pop stars and beauty queens.
Israel’s citizens – including minorities – are some of the happiest in the world. In past polls, given the choice Arab Israeli citizens would choose to live in Israel rather than in an independent Palestine. That says it all. By castigating only Israel, the most moral and free society in a dark and destructive region, Nzimande becomes complicit in condoning the worst human rights violations and crimes.
Nzimande may need to be reminded that there were no universities or institutes of higher learning in Palestine until after Israel took over in 1967. Instead of acknowledging Israel’s bequest and contribution to Palestinian development, he chooses only to disparage it. This mean-spiritedness deserves the reaction that Israel had, because nothing good could come out of a visit by Nzimande to the region.
Nzimande is stuck in a communist mindframe which harks back to the colonialist period. He views Israelis as settlers and colonialists, while nothing can be further from the truth. Jews have lived in “Palestine” continuously for longer than any other people. The Palestinians are certainly not the indigenous or aboriginal people that he makes them out to be. Yasser Arafat and many of the current Palestinian leaders were not born in Palestine, and the Arabs entered Israel only after 2,000 years of Jewish settlement.
Religion being “the opium of the masses,” perhaps Nzimande needs to be reminded that Jesus was born and died a Jew and that he preached in a Jewish Temple 1,400 years before the first Muslim appeared in Jerusalem.
Nzimande has a huge task on his hands raising the skill levels of the people that he serves. Where South Africa fails, Israel excels. Israel produces entrepreneurs and innovators. Israel produces more Nobel prize winners pro rata than any other country, yet Nzimande chooses to disregard their achievements and partake in boycotts and discrimination. The people of South Africa desrve more from their leaders and Nzimande is a victim of his own ineptitude and poisonous agenda.
The author is chairman of the South African Zionist Federation.