South African govenment shuns Israeli blandishments
Two reports, from Ha’aretz and Jadaliyya/S.Africa BDS
South Africa Jews, government clash over cancelled Israel visit
Delegation of mayors bows to pressure from BDS group, calls off planned trip; deputy foreign minister: ‘We discourage South Africans from visiting Israel‘
By Jeremy Gordin, Ha’aretz
August 19, 2012
This past week, South African-Israeli relations sunk to one of their lowest points since the “new” South Africa began in 1994. The only other incident that caused such a fuss was the 2010 Gaza flotilla debacle when Israeli Ambassador Dov Segev-Steinberg received a dressing-down from then-deputy minister of international relations, Sue van der Merwe, and South Africa withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv for a period of time.
The latest conflict, which is more specifically between the South African Jewish community and the South African government, involves the cancellation, announced August 10, of a visit to Israel by mayors and other members of municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province.
Similar trips for representatives from eight of the country’s nine provinces have been organized over the years by the South Africa-Israel Forum to promote agricultural and technological cooperation between the countries.
Following the cancellation, Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim “Ibie” Ebrahim said in the Mail & Guardian newspaper, “We discourage South Africans from visiting Israel, we don’t ban them.”
Ebrahim, now in his late 70s, was badly tortured as a political detainee in the 1980s and spent many years as a political prisoner on Robben Island (South Africa’s political Alcatraz), including 10 years in the same communal cell as current South African president Jacob Zuma. Ebrahim, who claims not to be anti-Israel but merely anti-occupation, denied that his comments represented a toughening of the government’s attitude toward Israel.
“This is not a new position,” he said in the City Press newspaper on Sunday. “Israel is an occupier country that is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel. We discourage people from going there, except if it has to do with the peace process.”
Referring to the latest incident, as well as to the brouhaha caused by the government’s proposal to label goods from the occupied territories as such, Segev-Steinberg said it was now clear that the intention of the South African government was to boycott Israel. “The cat is out of the bag,” he said.
Ebrahim denied that there was any plan to boycott Israeli goods.
Asked if President Zuma, who has good relations with the local Jewish community, would make a statement, spokesman Mac Maharaj laughed.
“No, no, we’re definitely leaving this one to the International Relations Ministry,” said Maharaj, who knows Ebrahim well. “Let’s see how Ibie does with this one with the Jewish community.”
A group calling itself Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa claimed responsibility for the decision by the KZN officials to cancel their visits.
“The South Africa-Israel Forum has attempted several ‘boycott-busting’ trips to Israel,” the group’s statement said, calling the forum a covert arm of the Israeli lobby in South Africa with direct ties to Cape Gate, a company they claim “supplies material to, and profits from, the construction of Israel’s notorious ‘Apartheid Wall.’”
They accuse the forum of circumventing South Africa’s national policy toward Israel. “The Israeli lobby in general, and the South Africa-Israel Forum in particular, have been taking members from the academic, sports, business, media and local government sectors to forge relations with the Israeli establishment,” the group said.
The group sent a petition to the KZN officials, supported by Cosatu (the Congress of South African Trade Unions), former minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, a permanent thorn in the side of South Africa-Israeli relations, and Sandile Phakathi, president of the South African Union of Students.
KZN premier, Zweli Mkhize, who arranged the cancellation, made no comment but his spokesman said that Mkhize knew about the invitations and that he had cancelled the trips.
“During the days of Apartheid we had similar attempts by the regime to undermine the isolation of South Africa,” said Kasrils. “It is not surprising that the Israeli lobby is also attempting to ensnare the unwary into boycott-busting trips. The KZN provincial administration’s rejection of this opportunistic invite is commendable and an example to all South Africans believing in justice and solidarity for the dispossessed Palestinians.”
On Tuesday, during a radio interview, Ebrahim clarified his position. “The government did not say people were forbidden to go to Israel. South Africans go there on a daily basis. However the government discouraged prominent individuals and government officials going to Israel.”
“Israel is an occupying power,” he said, “and visiting it would give legitimacy to its occupation.”
Radio host Chris Gibbons interjected by asking Ebrahim if the government had the same policy with other human rights abusers such as Myanmar and China.
Ibrahim responded that the African National Congress, South Africa’s governing political party of which he is a member, has a One China policy and does not recognize the Tibet issue. He also added that the government looked at Israel in harsher light because “it has been an occupying force for over 60 years, with no process to resolve the issue.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, and the South Africa Zionist Federation issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “The South African Jewish community deplores Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim’s statement that he is discouraging South Africans from visiting Israel. Such a stance is grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel.”
In an interview this week with a local Jewish website, Segev-Steinberg said that the king of the Zulu people, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, had accepted an invitation to visit Israel in the near future.
“The King spoke of his passion for rural development and said he would especially look into new possibilities to cooperate with Israel in the fields of health, agriculture and education amongst other areas of interest for the benefit of the Zulu people,” said Segev-Steinberg. The Zulu king, though revered by the Zulu people, has a mainly ceremonial role and is quite often at odds with the ANC government.
By Jadaliyya Reports
August 19, 2012
[The following report was issued by BDS South Africa on 11 August 2012.]
South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation has unequivocally communicated the South African government’s position on “boycott-busting” trips to Israel ([in] which the Israeli lobby has attempted to take students, journalists, sports people, CEOs, government officials, mayors and others on):
Because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people, we strongly discourage South Africans from going there [to Israel]…[and] any South African company from having anything to do with strengthening the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.” – Mail&Guardian, 10 August 2012
South Africa’s position is commendable; having relations and dealings with Israel (other than to pursue peace) normalizes an abnormal regime and tacitly endorses Israel’s illegal occupation and apartheid policies toward the Palestinian people.
Major Set-Back for Israeli Lobby in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa
In 2005, Palestinian civil society and political groups issued a call to the international community for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel till it abides by international law and respects human rights.
The SA-Israel Forum, in contravention of this BDS call, has attempted several “boycott-busting” trips to Israel. The SA-Israel Forum is mostly a covert arm of the Israeli lobby operating in South Africa with direct connections to CapeGate – a South African company that, shamefully, supplies material to, and profits from, the construction of Israel’s notorious, “Apartheid Wall” ). The SA-Israel Forum seeks to co-opt business and entice local government by circumventing SA’s national policy – which is to discourage relations with the Israeli regime. The Israeli lobby in general, and the SA-Israel Forum in particular, have been taking members from the academic, sports, business, media and local government sectors to forge relations with the Israeli establishment (which is becoming increasingly isolated because of Israel’s oppression toward the Palestinian people and active BDS campaigning worldwide).
Click here to learn some of whom from the SA business sector that were taken on a SA-Israel Forum trip to Israel. Early last year, the Israeli lobby also tried to break the sports boycott of Israel by hosting a delegation of SA Rugby Union (SARU) members in Israel, including Oregan Hoskins and Peter de Villiers. However, that trip back-fired with a huge outcry from South Africans, particularly from former SARU rugby players, who even threatened to burn their blazers because of the SARU trip to Israel.
Then, this week (5-12 August) the SA-Israel Forum was intending to take a delegation from the KZN province of mayors and other municipal members to Israel. An urgent joint letter from the ANC Youth League; SA’s largest trade union federation, COSATU; the SA Students’ Congress, SASCO; and other groups was sent to the Premier of the KZN province, Dr Zweli Mkhize), together with a letter of support from Palestinian Christians and another letter, interestingly, from a group of progressive Israelis (see here), all requesting the province of KZN not to cross the international boycott-of-Israel-picket-line. Subsequently, KZN (in line with SA government policy) cancelled the SA-Israel Forum trip to Israel, read all about it here.
What You Can Do
The SA-Israel Forum, like its partners overseas in other countries, is nothing more than an Israeli propaganda initiative equivalent to the PR initiatives of Apartheid South Africa. During 1980s we had similar groups that worked to build relations and buy influence abroad for an isolated Apartheid regime. The SA-Israel Forum is doing the same, but like in the case of Apartheid in South Africa, its not a new image, nor new relations, that will bring about change. Apartheid South Africa was forced to dump its racist policies; Israel too, needs to dismantle its racist and oppressive policies.
The province of KZN, by refusing to go on this Israeli lobby trip, sets a precedent for all our provinces to follow. If you know of similar trips that are being pursued by the Israeli lobby in your area, make people aware of our government’s policy, or, be in touch with us for more information: email@example.com
This is a major setback for the Israeli lobby, and particularly the SA-Israel Forum. The KZN province should be commended for its principled position. You can write to the province at: Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Moses Mabhida Building, 300 Langalibalele Street, Pietermaritzburg, 3201
Contact BDS South Africa to arrange a full workshop and presentation on Israel-Palestine and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign for your community:firstname.lastname@example.org
During the late 1980s, the UK government also “discouraged” trips to Apartheid South Africa. The current Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, who was a local politician at that stage, contravened the UK’s policy (and, of course, the ANC’s boycott call) when he came to South Africa on an apartheid lobby trip (similar to the ones organized today by the SA-Israel Forum). Cameron later distanced himself but only after the demise of apartheid. The trick, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts it, is: “how do we commit ourselves to virtue before its political triumph?”.
Be on the right side of history, join and support the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel campaign.