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The ruling South African political party boycotted a pro-Israel conference held in Cape Town Monday that was sponsored by South African Christians, the organizers of the event said.
Three prominent Christian members of the governing African National Congress Party, including former Cape Town mayor Normaindia Mfeketo, did not even respond to invitations to attend the conference, said Dave Wilken, deputy chairman of the South Africa branch of the Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy. The Embassy cosponsored the event together with another Jerusalem-based Evangelical Christian group, Bridges for Peace.
In contrast to the ANC's conspicuous absence, five South African members of parliament from two opposition parties attended the event, as did several legislators from other African countries.
"The message that has come out today is that this government is not friendly at all towards Israel," said Chris Liebenberg, a parliamentarian from South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
Liebenberg said the government's aversion to anything Israel-related was so great that it was even willing to forgo Israeli offers of economic assistance.
"How can you refuse such help?" asked Reverend Joe Cloetel, who quit the ANC to join the Democratic Alliance.
The African National Congress, which has strong historical ties with the Palestinians, has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Israel has proposed an array of educational and medical assistance, including one involving Israeli-discovered drip irrigation and another for infant and children's health care.
South African opposition members said the ANC's refusal to come to the conference was symptomatic of the party's general anti-Israel positions since the end of apartheid.
"There is a very strong anti-Israel sentiment prevailing in government," said Steve Swart, an MP from the African Christian Democratic Party.
He cited the government's silence about Iranian threats against Israel, its support for Teheran's nuclear program, an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to speak at the parliament without any similar invitation being extended to Israel, and an upcoming visit by Hamas officials as the latest examples of South Africa's one-sided policies on the Israeli-Palestinian front.
"We are so pro-Palestinian our credibility is just gone," he said.
Citing a busy schedule, Israel's ambassador to South Africa, Ilan Baruch, was also absent from the event. Organizers suggested that the conference's right-wing outlook was likely the real reason the diplomat shied away from the conference.
The first-ever Jerusalem Summit Africa, which aimed to draw support for Israel by linking the two countries' common confrontation with radical Islam, was modeled on the Jerusalem Summit, the annual gathering of international right-wing thinkers that debuted in Israel in 2003.
The Cape Town conference came five years after the UN's 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, which turned into an anti-Israel fest.
"If Jews do not have a right to their land, then the bible is wrong and your story is wrong," Dmitry Radyshevsky, the executive director of the Jerusalem Summit, told a highly supportive audience of Evangelical Christians in a Cape Town suburb.
He warned of a growing tide of radical Islam, which, he said, was winning a political, educational and economic Jihad in Africa.
"The battle for Jerusalem has begun and it is not just a physical battle, which we witness every day on the streets, but a spiritual battle," said Knesset Christian Allies Caucus director Josh Reinstein.
The interim head of the parliamentary lobby, MK Benny Elon (National Union-National Religious Party), said in his address that Israelis were also facing a spiritual crisis as they veered away from the bible. He was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of "amen" from the enthralled crowd.
"It took many years to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it is no less difficult to take the exile out of the Jews in Israel," he said.
The Jerusalem Summit Africa conference, which followed last year's Jerusalem Summit Asia in Seoul, epitomized the ever-burgeoning relationship between Israel and Christian Evangelicals over the last several years after decades when such relations were frowned upon by both the Orthodox and non-Orthodox establishment in Israel due to concerns over proselytizing and conflicting theological views.