S. Africa's pro-BDS union federation claims Jewish leaders dividing gov't

The comments come after the SAJBD responded to International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu's announcement that the country's Embassy in Tel Aviv was downgraded and that its ambassador will not replaced.

Protesters call for diplomatic ties between South Africa and Israel to be severed during a 2018 demonstration in Cape Town, South Africa. (photo credit: MIKE HUTCHINGS / REUTERS)
Protesters call for diplomatic ties between South Africa and Israel to be severed during a 2018 demonstration in Cape Town, South Africa.
(photo credit: MIKE HUTCHINGS / REUTERS)
South Africa’s trade union federation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), has blamed leaders of South Africa’s Jewish community for trying to divide the government and the African National Congress (ANC), the country’s ruling party.
COSATU made the comments after the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) responded to International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s announcement that South Africa’s Embassy in Tel Aviv had been downgraded and that the ambassador to Israel would not be replaced after he was pulled last year following violence on the Israel-Gaza border during the Great March of Return.
“We are in the process of following the downgrade resolution of the ruling party and stage one has been completed,” Sisulu said last week during a speech to the South African Institute of International Affairs. “The office will remain at the level of a liaison and that is how it will operate.”
Her comments also came during the annual Israel-Apartheid Week, which took place on university campuses across South Africa.
On Monday, the SAJBD said that Sisulu’s comments “completely contradicts [South African] President [Cyril] Ramaphosa’s own words on the subject.”
“Speaking at the Garden’s Synagogue in Cape Town last September and at the SAJBD Gauteng conference the following month, President Ramaphosa assured SA Jewry that his government was looking to ‘play a constructive role that will bring all parties together so that we find a solution to a problem that seems intractable in the Middle East,’” the Jewish leaders said. “By downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel, however, South Africa would obviously render itself completely irrelevant in terms of any role it might play in finding peace in the region.”
The SAJBD further noted that in order to become official policy in the country, “the question of downgrading the SA Embassy in Tel Aviv has first to be discussed by Parliament and then ratified by Cabinet. Changes in policy cannot simply be declared by a government minister.”
Meanwhile, on March 7, President Ramaphosa responded to a question posed in parliament about the downgrade in which he said that “government is in the process of giving effect to a resolution of the governing party that South Africa should downgrade its embassy in Israel.”
“Our approach is informed by our concern at the ongoing violation of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the refusal of the government of Israel to enter into meaningful negotiations to find a just and peaceful resolution to this conflict,” Ramaphosa highlighted. “The South African government remains seized with the modalities of downgrading the South African Embassy in Israel.”
However, on Tuesday, both COSATU and the South African Communist Party hit back at the SAJBD.
COSATU national spokesman Sizwe Pamla said the umbrella organization had noted “the utterances by the Jewish Board of Deputies in their attempt to divide the ruling party and the South African Government in its decision [to downgrade the Embassy in Tel Aviv] by trying to isolate Minister Sisulu.”
“It should be noted that this is the decision of the ANC and we do not believe there have been any contradictions between the President and the Minister in this regard; we condemn this attempt to confuse everyone,” Pamla continued. “South Africa is not a confused state.”
COSATU ALSO lauded the decision saying that South Africa “has done its best in the past in engaging all the parties involved and we see this as the first step forward in calling apartheid Israel out something the whole world knows but have no will to stop.
“We strongly believe that the world has no choice but to act in unity with South Africa in brokering a meaningful way forward that will bring about sustainable solution between the two,” Pamla said. “We cannot be held at ransom in the name of investment and trade, this is a matter of principle and South Africa must no longer be complacent on the matter.”
The SACP said that although the decision was long overdue, “we appreciate the message sent by our ANC-led government to the rest of the world that South Africa cannot have normal relations with an apartheid state.”
The ANC also applauded the minister and her commitment to implementing the downgrade, which was initially voted for at the party’s national conference in December 2017.
Meanwhile, The SAJBD went on to say that it “remains strongly of the view that an embassy downgrade would not only achieve nothing in terms of advancing Middle East peace prospects, but would run counter to South Africa’s own objective interests, particularly in terms of stimulating foreign investment.”
“A downgrade would further be inconsistent with how South Africa has always conducted its foreign policy, which has been to engage with all sides and never to resort to the politics of boycott,” the Board continued. “In reality, the ability of South Africa to influence the Middle East peace process is limited. Where our country can genuinely make a positive difference is by sharing its own story of a negotiated transition with Israelis and Palestinians, thereby helping them achieve a similar resolution.”
The SAJBD added that “were ties with Israel to be downgraded, however, South Africa would obviously only be sabotaging any prospect of playing any useful role in that process.”