President Cyril Ramaphosa is due to address South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies, in what has become a ritual for leaders of the country. Unsurprisingly, the Jewish Board has hailed the upcoming event in anticipation of obtaining presidential assurances which in all likelihood will emphasize a number of core issues.
Judging from previous engagements Ramaphosa’s predecessors had with the Jewish Board, I expect his speech to be not much different from theirs. If his aides have undertaken rudimentary research to provide him with key talking points, they would be mindful to ensure that his address will be music to the ears of his hosts.
To be in tune with the correct rhythm, Ramaphosa will be expected to laud Jewish business elites as key components in his efforts to reinvigorate job creation, poverty alleviation and to stimulate the economy on an upward trajectory. In addition, he will be expected to assure the Jewish Board that under no circumstances will the ANC-led government countenance anti-Jewish hate crimes. Nor will it tolerate Anti-Semitism.
So far so good. Domestic issues of governance and the need for public-private partnerships in pursuance of equitable land reform policies, will be elementary, certainly not ground breaking. It is what lies outside of South Africa’s borders which Ramaphosa’s hosts and audience will be keenly attuned to. In other words, foreign policy in relation to Israel. A sticky subject indeed. Will his remarks and interpretation of the ANC resolution to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv indicate a commitment to do so? Or will he be overly sensitive to calls by the Jewish Board not to proceed, thus receiving a standing ovation?
I say “sticky” because the subject of Israel and its colonial enterprise has dogged previous presidents since the dawn of South African democracy. While former president Nelson Mandela was quite forthright in his defence of Palestinian rights, including his embrace of the embodiment of their freedom struggle, Yasser Arafat, he was nevertheless tied down by Fatah’s futile compromises. The premature acceptance of Israel’s existence in the absence of reciprocal recognition of the legitimacy of Palestinian rights as embodied in countless UNSC resolutions, had not only haunted Arafat, but also his allies such as Mandela.
South Africa’s foreign policy on Israel was thus guided by Fatah’s misplaced faith in various so-called “peace plans”, none of which garnered any support from rank and file Palestinians. The cornerstone of it has been and remains unattainable: the 2-state solution. Reasons are obvious. None of Israel’s leaders nor political formations have aspired for anything less than “Greater Israel”, leaving no room for an independent Palestinian state.
The evidence is abundantly clear. East Jerusalem has been annexed. It’s non-Jewish residents subjected to forced evictions. America under the Trump administration has granted Jerusalem the status of Israel’s undivided capital. Never mind that the unilateral move is at odds with UN dictates. Who cares whether international conventions are defied and ignored as long as Zionist dreams are fulfilled…?
The so-called autonomy of the West Bank is in tatters as land grab is the order of the day. Again, in fulfillment of Zionist expansionist goals, Jewish settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territory keeps growing at a bewildering pace. As the West Bank is being shredded to pieces, so too has Abu Mazen’s authority been reduced to that of a policeman in the employ of Israel.
Gaza remains under siege. It’s residents, young and old, journalists and photographers, medics and civilians, are being mowed down mercilessly by Benjamin Netanyahu’s troops. Is there any accountability for the dastardly brutal execution of grotesque policies by the Occupying Power? None whatsoever simply because the perpetrator is Israel. Lack of any authoritative and decisive action by South Africa from the period of Mandela to Thabo Mbeki; from Jacob Zuma to Cyril Ramaphosa, has been symbolic of the impotence by global powers as indeed the toothlessness of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.
What is it about Israel that leaves the international community hopelessly enslaved to it? Why is Israel’s impunity and willful defiance of UNSC resolutions tolerated? What absolves it of obligations to adhere to the UN Charter? These are some of the questions I hope Ramaphosa’s research team will ponder on as his speech is being prepared for presentation to the Jewish Board.
At the same time one is reminded of the call by Palestinian civil rights leaders and activists on countries including South Africa to impose boycott campaigns similar to the anti-apartheid movement. These calls are directed to governments, trade unions, workers and all people. One of the most recent is by Gaza academic Haider Eid.
It’s a heart wrenching plea which cannot be ignored by any reasonable person, let alone a leader of the African National Congress, who as head of government carries a distinct responsibility to dignify Palestinian humanity by activating meaningful policies to attain: An end to the siege that has been imposed on the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip since 2006 for voting against the fictional two-state solution and the Oslo Accords; the protection of civilian lives and property, as stipulated in International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law such as The Fourth Geneva Convention; that Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip be provided with material support to cope with the immense hardship that they are experiencing at the hands of Israeli Occupation Forces; immediate reparations and compensation for all destruction carried out by the IOF in the Gaza Strip; holding Israeli generals and leaders accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the civilians of Gaza and an end to occupation, Apartheid, and other war crimes committed by Israel.
In the words of Haider Eid: “Why is that too much to ask? Were the anti-apartheid and Civil Rights movements too demanding for calling for an end to all forms of racism, institutional and otherwise ? And was the international community wrong to heed their calls?” Will Ramaphosa heed the call by breaking with the tradition of pandering to the wishes of ardent supporters of Israel’s rightwing apartheid regime?
Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network based in Johannesburg, South Africa