South Africa Flag 311.
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
The Johannesburg City Council on November 29 adopted a motion to rename Sandton Drive – a prominent thoroughfare in Johannesburg, which is home to most of South Africa’s 70,000-strong Jewish community – after Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled. The move is not only hurtful to South African Jews and Israelis, but to all decent South Africans and people around the world.
It is also a direct offense to the US, whose consulate is currently situated on Sandton Drive.
The Haifa-born Khaled, 74, who now lives in Jordan, is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian and was one of the hijackers of TWA Flight 840 from Rome via Athens to Tel Aviv in 1969, and also took part in one of the four Dawson’s Field hijackings the following year.
The motion was presented by the ruling ANC and its far-left ally, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which argued that Joburg had “a responsibility to stand with the people of Palestine.”
EFF chairperson Musa Novela said, “It is our duty to stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine against the oppressive state of Israel.” The initial motion was to rename the road “City of Ramallah, but following an amendment, it called for the road to be named after Khaled.”
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) opposed the move, saying the motion was a blatant violation of the city’s naming policy. The member of the municipal council for community development, Nonhlanhla Sifumba, said the motion lacked substance as the name Khaled held no meaning for Joburg, and that street names should promote a sense of ownership and the character of the city.
“In this case, this motion fails to meet any of the requirements,” Sifumba said. Despite “a brawl” that reportedly broke out in the council, the motion was passed.
The South African Jewish community responded with shock to the move, but carefully chose its words.
“The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation are aware of a recent motion by a member of the City of Johannesburg council yesterday to rename Sandton Drive after plane hijacker Leila Khaled,” the SAJBD and SAZF said in a statement. “Given Khaled’s history, renaming Sandton Drive in her honour is extremely divisive, inflammatory and polarizing, and detracts considerably from South African values of social cohesion and nation-building.”
“It is also important to note that streets in the City are renamed when the original name is among other things, offensive or hurtful, which is not the case with Sandton Drive. We will continue to monitor this process and protest against what we believe is a motion that is inconsistent with the City of Johannesburg’s own policy on naming streets and public places,” the community said in its statement.
In 2015, the SAJBD protested an invitation by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions-South Africa to Khaled to address the Durban University of Technology, calling it a “glorification of terrorism.” It was no coincidence, the SAJBD said, that after Khaled “expressed her hatred against ‘Zionists,’” some on campus called for Jewish students to be “deregistered.”
“Welcoming hate-mongers like Khaled to South Africa sends out a message that it is legitimate to discriminate against Jews, something that runs completely counter to the South African ethos of non-racialism, equality and tolerance,” the Jewish organization said.
South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, in May, following the IDF’s killing of some 60 Palestinians protesting violently on the Gaza-Israel border against the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and downgraded its Israeli Embassy to a liaison office. But South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has demonstrated himself to be a friend of the Jewish community, most recently attending the biannual congress of the SAJBD’s Guateng chapter on November 25.
“We will want to play a constructive role that will bring all parties together so that we can find a solution to the problem that seems intractable in the Middle East,” Ramaphosa said when asked whether South Africa had a role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Our message to President Ramaphosa and the Joburg City Council is this: If South Africa is to play a constructive role, then it can start with one simple task: Don’t reward terrorism and don’t rename a Johannesburg street the Leila Khaled Drive.
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