Hijaking South Africa’s foreign policy on Israel

Are Palestinian lives more precious than Syrian lives, or Libyan or for that matter South Sudanese or Malians lives?

South Africans protest Israel 370 (photo credit: reuters)
South Africans protest Israel 370
(photo credit: reuters)
South Africa’s foreign policy with regard to Israel and the Palestinians, although inherently more sympathetic to the Palestinian side, under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki at least tried to maintain an even-handedness, supporting a two-state solution and of promoting peaceful dialogue.
Indeed, South Africa even tried to broker talks between the two sides, in February 2003 at the Spier Wine Estate. Since recalling the South African ambassador to Israel following “Operation Cast Lead” in Gaza in 2009, relations with Israel have deteriorated to such an extent that Israel has been singled out and treated as a pariah.
South Africa has allowed local politics, such as its obsession to rule the Western Cape and the anti-Israel agenda of Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim to determine foreign policy, even when this policy is antithetical to South Africa’s national interests.
Its unabashed one-sided anti-Israel stance has disqualified South Africa from playing a constructive role in the Middle East and has extinguished any claim it once had to holding a moral high ground or of offering a solution by virtue of its example of conflict resolution.
Ebrahim has taken concrete steps to stop “economic” visits to Israel, because “Israel is an occupier country.”
This follows shortly on the heels of Deputy Minister of International Relations Marius Fransman’s speech in Athlone to the Muslim community in which he said that “economic diplomacy could be one of the most effective weapons of change in the Palestinian situation.
Palestinians and their supporters, inspired by the economic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa, have been trying for years to emulate our success in that terrain. Until now their campaign of divestment and boycott has had negligible economic effect, but the voice of our government could be a symbolic boost.
“However, I am glad to inform you that our government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry [DTI] has recently, in May 2012, released a government notice 379 of 2012, as a strategy to apply economic pressure on Israel,” Fransman said.
He then went on to note that he was “highly inspired by the role played by organizations such Open Shuhada Street, PSG, the MJC, Al Quds Foundation and others.”
It is poignant to note that the Al Quds Foundation does not recognize Israel even in its pre-1967 territory, as in its June 2009 editorial it blamed Israel for “occupying Palestine for more than 60 years, uprooted for more than 60 years, living in fear for more than 60 years. When does it all end?” Does Fransman support this viewpoint? Is it official South African government policy not to recognize Israel in its pre- 1967 borders?
In 2011, Muslim Judicial Council spokesman Shuaib Appleby condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying: “extrajudicial killing is totally condemned by Islam.” Does Fransman also endorse this viewpoint?
Rhoda Kadalie recently explained the motivations behind Fransman’s actions as follows: “Under Fransman’s leadership the ANC Western Cape has run a campaign against the DA characterized by racially divisive rhetoric and disruptive and violent protests. The party’s ‘Project Reclaim’ has attracted repeated allegations of bribery as well. Continuing as before under the former premier, Fransman seeks to exploit the poor, rural communities and the San peoples.”
So it appears that in order to win the Western Cape ,the ANC has thrown its lot in with the Muslims, who comprise a sizeable percentage of the voters, by taking a strongly hostile and partisan stance against Israel. In so doing it has calculated that the Jews, being a small minority, can be sacrificed politically and that generally they will not make too much noise in response to being sidelined.
The ANC finds itself in a quandary of its own making – were it to remove Ebrahim from his position, it would be interpreted by his Muslim brethren as a hostile act against the Muslim community, and would undoubtedly produce a negative backlash against the progress the ANC have made in the Western Cape. It seems like the ANC are locked in to live with the genie that they have allowed out of the bottle.
In his speech, Fransman transgressed several times over the most time honored rule of South African international relations, namely not to interfere in the internal or sovereign affairs of another country, by criticizing Israel’s Nationality Law of 1952.
For decades our leaders have bit their tongues rather than break this sacrosanct rule, never indulging in any criticism of Mugabe’s wayward policies in Zimbabwe, or in the days of the despots in Libya, ne’er a word of criticism against Gaddafi or Omar Bashir in Sudan, despite a warrant of arrest from the International Criminal Court. How can our dear minister explain why Israel is deserving of a different and unique set of standards? Finally, South African taxpayers need to be made aware of the degree to which their hardearned taxes are being lavished on the Palestinians. It has been estimated that over R30 million has been spent on supporting the Palestinian Ambassador in South Africa. That during the last year about R2m.
has been spent on Palestinian refugees, millions on sports stadia in the West Bank and on sponsoring trips to Palestinian territories. While there is an undeniable debt of gratitude to repay the Palestinians during their time of need, for how long will this be sustained, while South Africans are living without the basic necessities of life – no jobs, no food and no adequate housing! IT IS time for South Africa to regain control over its foreign policy, which has been hijacked by ministers with no sense of fairness, of appreciation for human rights, and to regain the moral high ground by unequivocally condemning human rights abuses, irrespective of where they occur.
South Africa has shamed itself by being largely silent on the 20,000 deaths in Libya, except to criticize the NATO-led mission, which helped to shorten the conflict and undoubtedly reduced casualties. South Africa has to its shame been silent on the more than 20,000 deaths in Syria and the more than 300,000 refugees that the Assad regime has caused. South Africa continues to import goods from the Syrian dictator, while it condemns Israel – the only democratic country in the region.
South Africa regularly stands with China and Russia, voting in support of the most brutal dictators and military rulers committing the most heinous human rights abuses. All this while it only accuses Israel of unfairly treating the Palestinians.
Are Palestinian lives more precious than Syrian lives, or Libyan or for that matter South Sudanese or Malians lives? It is time for our officials to act in the interests of the people of South Africa, and these would best be served by maintaining and expanding strong relations with Israel, which has so much to offer toward solving South Africa’s most pressing problems.
The writer is the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF, Cape Council).