A protester and member of South Africa's ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), carries a placard outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
(photo credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)
The Cultural Religious and Linguistic Commission has warned South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party that downgrading the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv would be unconstitutional.
Last week, Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva, chairwoman of the commission, noted at a symposium that if South Africa downgrades its embassy in Israel it will “unfairly impact on the ability of Africans Jews to practice and identify with their religious and cultural heritage. As such, it would probably be unconstitutional.”
At the symposium, prominent community leader Rabbi Dovid Hazdan said that downgrading the embassy would “have a devastating and far-reaching impact on Jewish life in South Africa.”
He noted that Jews throughout the world were “inextricably bound to the land of Israel” and recalled the years he spent in Israel studying for his rabbinic ordination before returning to South Africa to practice as a religious leader and educator.
Hazdan said that Israel had been “the incubator, inspiration and source of instruction for Jewish leadership in South Africa,” adding that his studies in Israel motivated him to return to South Africa to make a positive difference for the Jewish community and for all of its people.
Kingdom of God Church Apostle Linda Gobodo said, “It will not only be Jews that will be negatively affected by a downgrade. Christian pilgrimages to Israel bring the Bible alive. A visit to the Holy Land is the highest spiritual experience that any Bible-believing Christian could have.”
Gobodo said her organization, Vuka Afrika, like many other Christian organizations, arranges regular pilgrimages to Israel.
“I myself am a regular visitor to Israel. A downgrade would jeopardize that, since Israel might retaliate and shut down its embassy in South Africa,” Gobodo warned. “Having to apply for a visa would have a devastating effect on South African Christians who visit Israel almost every week.”
She added that South Africa and Israel “need to consider an upgrade, rather than a downgrade.”
National director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies Wendy Kahn echoed Gobodo’s sentiments and cautioned that a possible downgrade would also make it impossible for South Africa to play a role in peace-building in the region.
“This would be a tragedy, as South Africa’s experience of successfully negotiating a peaceful transition at home could be utilized in helping to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” Kahn said. “The ANC, with its close relationship with the Palestinians, is also wellplaced to facilitate engagement – if it could just build trust with the Israelis.”
The commission’s Xaluva addressed the potential embassy downgrade irrespective of the situation in the Middle East. “In order to attain... [social cohesion and a spirit of national unity] it is imperative that everyone feel that they belong,” she said.
“Ultimately, every decision of the ANC should fall within the constitution. No action should overtake the rights of people who live in our country. Otherwise, we render the constitution meaningless.”
In July, the ANC’s call for a downgrade of the South African Embassy in Israel to a “liaison office,” said the party was “concerned by the lack of commitment from Israel to finding a resolution to the Palestinian question.”