As the recent truce between Hamas and Israel was taking effect, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor called for sanctions against Israel. At the Durban port dock, following a call from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), workers refused to unload cargo from an Israeli ship, the Zim Shanghai. Transnet is being targeted by protests, pressuring it to refuse to load any goods destined for Israel, or unload good from Israel. COSATU issued a message to Israel to stop “oppression” of the Palestinian people. Many other South African leaders, including the country’s President, have condemned the Jewish State.

It would be unprecedented in South Africa’s history since 1994 for sanctions to be imposed against any country. In addition to this, there are serial human rights abusers with which South Africa finds no fault.

South Africa has just awarded a multi-billion tender to Turkey for “power ships” for a 5 year period. In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus with a huge force of 60,000 Turkish soldiers and has occupied the northern half of the island since. Since then, it has been transferring people of Turkish ethnicity to Cyprus in order to change the balance of the population. The occupation was followed by “ethnic cleansing” of Greek Cypriots from the Turkish areas and thousands of Greeks either relocated to the south of the island or to Greece, leaving their properties behind without any compensation. Turkey is today involved in a genocidal war against the Kurdish people, both inside Turkey and against the Kurds of Syria and Iraq. Turkey has the largest army in NATO, and regularly attacks the Kurds, with a full array of modern weapons, without differentiating between combatants and civilians. It may or may not be noteworthy that the numbers of Kurds killed by Turkey far outnumber those of Palestinians, and attacks go largely unreported by the press. It should be noted that the Kurds are a far larger ethnic group than the Palestinians, also struggling for autonomy and are the real victims of “perfidious albion” British and French policies as the Turkish Ottoman empire was being carved up. Turkey has jailed Kurdish leaders and Kurdish areas are under constant curfews. Turkey is notorious for its lack of a free press and for jailing more journalists than any other country. President Erdogan of Turkey is supportive of the Hamas terrorist organization, which he supports monetarily and diplomatically.

The policies of China against the people of Tibet and the imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps, benignly referred to as “re-education camps”, don’t seem to perturb the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) or its Minister, Naledi Pandor, herself a Muslim. The projection of Chinese military prowess over the South China Sea, riding roughshod over all the rights and claims of the countries in the area, are simply ignored, as are the aerial provocations taking place in Taiwan airspace.

The selectivity of targeting only Israel for opprobrium and isolation is duplicitous and mendacious, particularly when Israel’s foreign policies in Africa are examined.

Israel’s historical relationship with Africa

The founder of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl in his book Altneuland, 1902, linked the struggle for a homeland for the Jews to the struggle by African countries to obtain freedom from their colonizers.

“I have lived to see the restoration of the Jews; I should like to pave the way for the restoration of the Africans”.

Only two African states existed in the United Nations in 1947, when the division of British mandated Palestine was put to the vote: Liberia and Ethiopia. The Liberians were sympathetic with the return of an exiled people to their homeland and voted “yes” to the creation of Israel. The United States civil rights leader William DuBois and the Pan-African Congress both drew inspiration from the Zionist movement.

In Ethiopia, Haganah forces, recruited by Orde Wingate fought alongside British soldiers in 1941 to evict the Italian forces that invaded in 1935. In 1935 Emperor Haile Selassie, known as the “lion of Judah” visited Jerusalem. Ethiopia abstained in the 1947 vote.

In 1956 Golda Meir met with Sudanese Prime Minister, Abdallah Khalil in Paris and in 1958 she launched her outreach to Africa with a tour to Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana and Ivory Coast, whose President Felix Huouphouet-Boigny saw Israel as providing a model of economic development for new African states. Follow-up trips to multiple African countries by Israeli President Ben-Zvi in 1962 and by Prime Minister Levi Eskhol in 1966 took place. By 1972, Israel had established diplomatic relations with all the non-Muslim states of the continent and even enjoyed “observer” status in the Organization of African Unity. “Indeed Israel had more embassies in Africa at that time than any other country, except the United States.” (Emmanuel Navon).

It is instructive, that during all this time that Israel was reaching out to Africa, it avoided sending an ambassador to South Africa, in order to publicly show its disdain of apartheid policies. Golda Meir considered it as her duty as a Jew to oppose racial discrimination, oppression and colonialism, as she explained in her autobiography. “Like them (Africans), we Israelis had shaken off foreign rule, like them we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land…”  

It was only after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when the price of oil skyrocketed and Arab states began to actively woo African states with promises of cheap oil – provided that they sever diplomatic relations with Israel – and most African states acquiesced, that Israel in 1974 sent its first ambassador to South Africa. It is also revealing that from the inception of South Africa’s apartheid policies in 1948, major western powers including France, Great Britain, the United States, West Germany, Italy and so on maintained relations with the minority apartheid regime, while in 1987 Israel imposed sanctions against said regime. While all these Western countries supplied military equipment to apartheid South Africa, (and France in 1980 accounted for half the supply) the ANC appears to only remember and focus selectively on Israel’s cooperation with the regime.

Explaining the politics and double-standards

1) The influence of the Soviet Union, which supported and provided succour to the ANC in exile. Although Russia voted for the creation of Israel in 1947, it did so because it perceived that Israel would be hostile to Great Britain and weaken its position in the Middle East. After Britain was ejected from the area, Russia needed to cosy up to the new Arab regimes and became blatantly hostile to Israel, supplying weapons to Israel’s enemies. The anti-Israel, and anti-Zionist sentiments rubbed off on the ANC recruits and were deliberately incorporated into their world views.

2) The ANC embraces anti-Zionist ideals, believing that its constituents will be happier with such ideals.

3) Although Jews played a disproportionate role in the struggle against apartheid, a couple who gained positions of leadership in the post 1994 government, were either Communist or rare anti-Zionists, like Ronnie Kasrils or Joe Slovo.

4) DIRCO seemed to attract a coterie of the most vehement anti-Zionist elements. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Lindiwe Sisulu and Naledi Pandor all adopted hostile policies against Israel, attempting to curtail trade, visits and even inter-governmental contacts. The appointment of deputies with hostile anti-Zionist attitudes, like Mr. Aziz Pahad and Mr Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim who remained in policy-formulating positions for extended periods, added fuel to fire.

5) ANC policy conferences, time after time, adopted hostile positions calling for the cutting of diplomatic relations between South Africa and Israel and the recall of the South African ambassador from Israel.   

At a time when Arab states and Muslim-majority African states are breaking down barriers and actively pursuing realistic and pragmatic relations with Israel, it would indeed be a setback for both South Africa and Israel if diplomatic relations were severed.

The Abraham Accords have stood up to the test of the recent Gaza conflict. Israel can offer solutions to South Africa’s many problems and should South Africa sever its diplomatic relations with Israel, South Africa would be the worse off. South Africa’s relations with the United States will be detrimentally affected and the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) agreement may well be rescinded. The Jewish people of South African may become less secure and life for Christians with strong spiritual connections to the Holy land will be complicated and the cause of peace will not be served. Only the extremist voices will celebrate, and South Africa will still be left with one less ally to solve its growing problems.

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Ben Levitas studied at Wits, Hebrew University (BA), London School of Economics (MSc) and Pretoria (MBA). He founded Boston House College and is former Chairman of the SAZF Cape Council.

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  1. I used to have great respect for Naledi Pandor. It amazes me that an intelligent Lady takes a stance like this. Very disappointing.

  2. In the face of the criticism from many quarters, Israel faced a barrage of condemnation for not providing the Palestinians supplies of their coronavirus vaccine stocks while ensure her populations were adequately inoculated. Notwithstanding the fact that healthcare was the sole responsibility of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and had refused any assistance for the Israeli’s as they had sourced their own stocks, the criticism continued, and what an opportunity this presented the PA to capitalize on the litany of false accusation.
    Interesting that only Israel was called out for not assisting others. No criticism at Canada who had openly declared that they had secured six times their required doses, but hogged those stocks and kept so very quiet lest Palestine or even an African country asked for help.
    Just this last Friday 18th June Israel began transferring a million Pfizer doses to the PA in a deal to assist the PA to accelerate their vaccine roll out program. Clearly this was not good publicity for the Palestinian’s and they had to turn things around to suit their narrative by returning the vaccine on the grounds that the expiry date was too close. In fact they would have found any excuse to return the vaccine as the world had already bought into their false accusations of Israel excluding the PA from their program.
    The Ynet news site said “the vaccinations transferred to the Palestinians on Friday were good until the end of June and July, with Israel deliberately sending those first so they would not be wasted. The rest of the vaccines set for delivery have a later expiration date and were good for several months.” Clearly a case if you do you’re dammed and if you don’t you’re damned.
    With the PA returning and turning their backs on over a million doses, here’s an opportunity for those in dire need of as many doses as they can lay their hands on. Would South Africa put up their hands and ask for those returned stocks to alleviate the shortage of vaccine in that country? Stupid question indeed, as everyone knows, given ANC governments hostility and hatred for Israel they would rather have their infection rate rise and put the lives of their people in jeopardy. Nothing new from the ANC whose immunization program has been so miserably mismanaged, resulting in a debacle of mammoth proportion and unable to halt the rising tide of daily infections.

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