SA Jewish Board of Deputies respond to SA Minister
The South African Jewish community is surprised and disappointed by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s comments regarding South Africa’s relationship with Israel. According to media reports, Minister Mashabane stated on Friday that her government’s policy is not to engage with Israel at the ministerial level until progress has been made in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and addressing Palestinian grievances.
These statements contradict previous assurances the Minister had given to the Jewish leadership that her government wished to play a role in helping Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences and would engage with both parties to further that end. They are further inconsistent with South African foreign policy in general, which is not to boycott other governments but rather to continually engage with them. It is therefore unclear why Israel alone has been excluded from such policy.
While we find Minister Mashabane’s comments as misguided, we do not believe that this in any way will exacerbate anti-Semitic sentiment in South Africa. MK Lieberman’s suggestion that this might lead to pogroms in South Africa is alarmist and inflammatory. Those familiar with South Africa know that it has consistently been shown to have very low rates of antisemitism, both numerically and in terms of the severity of the attacks. We have not seen the violent antisemitic incidents that are manifesting in Europe and most recently in Australia.
When she last met with the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), Minister Mashabane expressed interest in South Africa’s playing a role in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and bringing about a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict. However, South Africa will contribute nothing to the process by applying discriminatory punitive measures against Israel alone, and indeed will only sideline itself as a credible peace broker in the Middle East. Such a policy, aside from doing nothing to bring about a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine question, serves also to undermine this country’s credibility as a factor in global conflict resolution.
The timing of the Minister’s comments is also difficult to understand. Not only do they come at a time when internationally-brokered peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are making encouraging progress, but they occurred during the very week when Israel had released many Palestinian prisoners as a token of its commitment to the negotiations process. It should be noted that these prisoners had been condemned for their part in murdering scores of Israeli civilians and whose release caused much anger and distress to the victims’ families.
The Jewish leadership and the South African government fully support a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South Africa, with its own history of successful conflict resolution both at home and abroad, can potentially play a valuable role in making this vision a reality. To do so, however, it must strive to engage with and learn from all parties involved.
For more information please contact Mary Kluk on 083 775 8618 or Avrom Krengel on 082 600 64 65.
Issues by Wendy Kahn, National Director, SAJBD