South Africa's Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
(photo credit: Reuters)
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.
The minister from the presidency 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. I wish to address the
general climate of heightened intolerance which 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. 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.”
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 Ismael Ebrahim,
told the City Press that South Africa was “discouraging” its citizens from
visiting Israel. “Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing
A planned trip to Israel by officials from the KwaZulu-Natal
province was canceled due to these government guidelines.
At that time,
Minister Rob Davies had drafted legislation that would require products made in
the “West Bank” to be marked with a distinct label. 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.” Furthermore, Marius Fransman, the other deputy minister of
international relations, in a Ramadan message to South Africa’s Muslims, stated
emphatically that the government fully supported the Palestinian cause and its
struggle for independence.
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 thrived and is a shining example and model for the entire region. 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.
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 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
For Collins 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, 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
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, we
have reason to fear.The author is chairman of the South African Zionist
Federation (Cape Council).