We are no longer placated by empty assurances

As long as Jews and our interests are treated exceptionally, we have reason to fear.

South Africa's Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (photo credit: Reuters)
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 Palestine.”
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 violence.
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 country.
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).