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South Africa is the “ground zero” of the BDS movement. It is no coincidence that that BDS sprung into the global conscience at the 2001 UN Conference against Racism in Durban. This was hugely symbolic because if you are going to launch a movement with the accusation of Apartheid as the central charge, then where better than South Africa?
Relations between Pretoria and Jerusalem have been steadily cooling over the last decade or so. The ANC-led government has firmly sided with the Palestinians, effectively removing the Rainbow Nation as any kind of affective and honest mediator in a lasting peace agreement between Israel and her neighbours. This comes at a time when bilateral relations between the State of Israel and many African countries are opening up and flourishing.
South Africa has adopted an increasingly hard line against the Jewish state, with the ruling ANC party adopting a resolution last month at their conference to downgrade the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv to that of a “liaison office”.
The same ANC conference that included a delegation of Hamas representatives. Hamas is recognized internationally as a terror organization and not the representatives of the Palestinian people. South Africa faces many domestic challenges such as state capture scandals, economic woes and a crippling water crisis in Cape Town which will soon become the first dry city in the world. Why all the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is it a means to detract from their own problems?
Capetonians line up for water
Last week we saw further evidence of this when the African state used their opportunity to address the United Nations Human Rights Council to excoriate Israel. South African diplomat, Clinton Swemmer, told the Council, “Israel is the only state in the world that can be called an apartheid state. We remain deeply concerned at the denial of the right of self-determination to the Palestinian people, in the absence of which no other human right can be exercised or enjoyed.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council with its obsessive focus on Israel at the expense of other conflicts and human rights violations has in short become the theatre of the absurd.
Calling Israel an “apartheid state” is a fallacious statement to say the least. Is there racism in Israel? Yes. Racism is abhorrent in Israel just like anywhere else in the world and it needs to be fought whenever it rears its ugly head. The fundamental difference is that the apartheid was a system of state legislated laws that deemed the country’s white population as racially superior to any other population group. The apartheid laws governed every aspect of a person’s life, from where they could live, work and receive and education to the use of transport and ablution facilities. Every aspect of apartheid was designed to humiliate and discriminate against South Africa’s non-white population, and comparing Israel to that racist regime denigrates the suffering of the victims of apartheid and belittles them yet again. Apartheid is unique to the South African experience.
There is a danger of South Africa calling Israel an apartheid state. While we know that this is completely false narrative, designed to give a tailwind to the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement and other detractors of the Jewish state, it does have impact. The apartheid analogy is the central charge around which BDS has built their campaign to de-legitimise the State of Israel. They are well aware that by comparing the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa, the former will be treated like a pariah in the family of nations. South Africa, by giving the stamp of approval to their accusations, allows this false narrative to flourish the greater global consciousness.
Discrimination in South Africa during the Apartheid years
The enormous tragedy here is that South Africa and Israel share a lot in common and the Jewish state is perfectly poised to help combat some of the great challenges the country is facing. Both countries have overcome tragic histories; both countries are mosaics of multi-culturalism and both countries face challenges posed by water shortages. As Israel is lauded over ground-breaking advances in water technology, so South Africa is committing water suicide by refusing the help offered. It would appear that many in the South African government would rather their constituents suffer than accept the help available.
Despite all of this, there is a massive groundswell of support for Israel in South Africa. King Goodwill Zwelithini of the Zulu nation spoke out about the importance of bilateral ties between the two countries and how South Africans could benefit. A sentiment echoed by the African Christian Democratic Party’s, Rev Kenneth Meshoe and many others who advocate for closer ties and have excoriated the ANC-led government for its short-sightedness and downright venom.
South Africans show their support for Israel
It would be in South Africa’s best interest to retire from its role as ringleader in the theatre of the absurd and get down to the serious business of contributing towards a more positive future. For both countries.
Rolene Marks is a broadcast and print journalist who serves on the executive of World WIZO and is a member of Truth be Told, a rapid response team to biased media and can be heard daily on Your Afternoon with Howard Feldman on Chai FM, a Johannesburg based radio station.