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SAZF Response to Deputy Minister Obed Bapela’s attack on student visitors to Israel

The SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) and SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) take the strongest exception to Deputy Minister Obed Bapela’s uncalled for attack against students who, under the auspices of the South Africa Israel Forum, took part in a recent visit to Israel. Amongst other things, Mr Bapela charged the students with bringing the ANC into ‘disrepute’ and said that the party would ‘summon’ them to an investigation.
It is deeply disturbing that a member of the South African government should condemn and threaten to punish those who have simply exercised their democratic right to freedom of thought and association. What is so wrong – either legally or morally - about a group of young South Africans travelling to another country in order to broaden their knowledge about the situation there? Is Mr Bapela afraid that by being exposed to information and opinions that differ from his own, they might end up coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusions?
Mr Bapela’s attitude also goes directly against South Africa’s standard approach when it comes to engagement with other countries. On a constant basis, visiting groups from South Africa travel to all parts of the world, including to countries where serious human rights abuses are taking place. Why is it only Israel that they should not be allowed to visit?
No official ban has been placed on members of government or the ruling party traveling to Israel. On the contrary, in September last year, President Zuma told a Jewish leadership delegation that his government had taken a decision to re-engage with all sides in helping to bring about a negotiated two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Last month, South Africa celebrated the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter. Unfortunately, it appears to be necessary to remind Mr Bapela that included in the Charter is that declaration, “All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad”. Far from being in line with the spirit of the Freedom Charter, however, Mr Bapela’s attitude would appear to be reminiscent of the policy of the old Nationalist regime, which during the apartheid years tried to prevent people from travelling to Lusaka to meet with the exiled ANC leadership.
There is nothing in any way illegitimate in bringing future young leaders to Israel to provide them with first-hand perspectives on what is happening there. Deputy Minister Bapela, however, has chosen to portray it as if it were a sinister, manipulative plot to trick members of his party into betraying their party’s principles. From this, it would appear that according to him, ANC members cannot be trusted to make up their own minds about the issues of the day, but must effectively be banned from exposing themselves to perspectives that might not be in line with his standpoint.
The SAZF and SAJBD urge all South Africans to be open to listening to the full range of views and interpretations on the Israel-Palestinian question, and to respect the right of others to express views that they might not agree with. In a democratic society, it is imperative to firmly resist any attempts to censor or suppress diversity of opinion, or to impose any particular interpretation of events on others.
For further comment please contact;
Mary Kluk SAJBD -  083 775 8618 
Ben Swartz SAZF - 082 451 5788

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