Wednesday 5 September 2012

South Africa Turning the Screws on Israel

South Africa's relationship with Israel has been a tenuous one to say the least, since the birth of the "new South Africa" and the ascent of the ANC to government in 1994.  This is hardly surprising, when considering the relationship between Israel and the ANC prior to 1994.  The military links beween Israel and the apartheid Nationalist government in South Africa did nothing to help the ANC feel positive towards Israel.  In their years in exile during the apartheid years, the ANC found a great deal of common ground with Yasser Arafat's PLO.  The two organisations cooperated and supported each other substantially during this period.  These links have not been broken since the ANC has come to power and the Palestinian Authority has been established.  All of this means that the relations between an ANC-led South African government and Israel will be cordial at best, and are unlikely ever to be warm or friendly.

The involvement of a number of South African Jews in the ANC's "struggle" never really helped to endear the organisation towards the Jewish community.  The fact that many of these Jews were and are virulently anti-Israeli has helped to engender a general feeling of contempt by the ANC organisation towards Israel.  The only saving grace in the ANC- Israel relationship has been the influence of Jews in big business in South Africa.  The Jewish community in South Africa, including the big names in the economy, have generally been strong Zionists.  The ANC has been smart enough to realise this, and has been forced to tread a careful path in displaying its contempt for Israel for fear of alienating these individuals and businesses, and the economic clout that they come with.  As Black Empowerment has worked to reduce this influence in favour of the new class of blacks who are seizing control of the economy for themselves, so the ANC has been allowed the freedom to turn the screws more tightly on Israel in the knowledge that this will not necessarily have the same economic consequences as it may have had previously.

Even though the ANC government's formal policy towards Israel appears unchanged, its actions display clearly that its position is tightening.  In the first instance, the SA government continues to support Iran at every opportunity.  This is despite the fact that Iranian leader Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of the State of Israel at every possible opportunity, and the development of Iran's nuclear capability is clearly aimed at creating a threat against Israel.  While many countries have unfortunately chosen not to take a position against Iran, they are at least thoughtful enough not to support Iran.  The fact that the South African government has come out in support of Iran places it in a different category as far as I am concerned.  Former US President George Bush said "you are either with us, or you are against us".  Where Iran is concerned, South Africa is clearly against Israel.

The unfortunate episode of the labelling of goods from West Bank settlements, and the fact that South African government has decided that these goods should be differently labelled certainly sets South Africa aside from the rest of the world.  South Africa is the only country that has taken this outrageous step, and this is a sign of grave hostility.  The areas of Judea and Samaria were captured in a war, in a similar way to many other areas around the world.  The war was not one of aggression by Israel, but rather a defensive move to ensure that enemies of the type of Iran's Ahmadinejad did not succeed in their quest to wipe Israel off the map.  All fair and square, and in accordance with international law.  Is the South African government objecting to the fact that Israel has decided not to hand this area on a golden platter to those who would use it to attack Israel?  Does the South African government believe that those who are living in the settlements and producing the goods that are separately labelled, are not Israelis?  This is a step that is unprecedented, and entirely unwarranted.  Other than taking a hostile stance against Israel, this action is unlikely to have any impact on Israel or its economy.  The point seems to be a simple statement of hostility.

This action is supported by the ridiculous statement by a minister in the South African government, that South Africans should not visit Israel.  Although the statement made by Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim seems to be directly at odds with the formal policy of the government, nobody has responded to slap him down.  By implication, this suggests that the members of the government are not in disagreement with his statement.  An attempt by Mr Ebrahim to promote his own anti-Semitic agenda has served to expose the entire South African government as sympathisers-in-kind.

While the Israeli government has made some strong statements in response to the anti-Israel vitriol coming out of South Africa, accusing the South African government of implementing a form of boycott against Israel, the Israeli government is unlikely to take stronger action against South Africa.  This is because of the sizable Jewish community that remains firmly ensconced in South Africa.  Whereas the Israeli government may, under different circumstances, have taken firmer diplomatic action in response to such provocation on the part of any government, the South African government will be allowed to escape with less than what it deserves.  The Israeli government would prefer this scenario rather than putting the South African Jewish community at any risk.  The truth is that the current situation serves to place the community under increased threat by virtue of the clear anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments coming out of the national government.  This should surely serve as a wake-up sign to the community that the situation is changing for the worse.

As the influence of the white and the Jewish community is weakened in the South African economy, the government will have view itself as having greater flexibility to operate against Jews and against Israel in the future.  It is difficult for me to see that the influence of the evangelical Christians in South Africa, who are important supporters both of the ANC and of Israel, will sufficiently sway the government such that it will take a less negative view of Israel.

In reality, there was never an expectation that the ANC government would be great supporters of the Jewish community and of Israel.  They were happy to act out the charade while it was in the best interests of the local economy.  Now that the economic interests are not the same as  they once were, the charade is likely to be abandoned with it.  While I would be happy to proved wrong on this point, it seems to me that the situation can only get worse and not better.

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