Above Board 24 February 2012
Last week, I reported briefly on our just-concluded meeting with Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile, in which his reported comment that our government might consider implementing sanctions against Israel was discussed. I can now elaborate on what transpired, and can say without reservation that we were very satisfied with the outcomes achieved.
Minister Mashatile clarified that neither he nor his government supported anti-Israel boycotts, and that this position was not being reconsidered. He further reiterated Government’s long-standing position of support for a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine as independent states existing side by side. It was agreed that current efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict should be supported, and that South Africa’s experience in conflict resolution should be utilised to assist with finding a lasting solution in the region.
All of these points were unambiguously made in a written communication issued immediately afterwards by the Minister’s office. Essentially, any perceptions that there had been a shift in government policy towards favouring the boycottist camp had been soundly quashed and current government policy officially reaffirmed.
It is fair to say that not all members of our community were happy with this outcome. Some suggested that we should have taken the Minister more strongly to task, and that his statements distancing himself from what he originally said should not have been taken at face value.
With respect, I believe this displays a misconception over what was intended by our meeting. What the Minister’s comment had suggested was a shift in Government policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, one that was moving away from one of engagement to one of boycotting Israel. The truth or otherwise of this needed to be clarified, and if it was not the case, then it was important to obtain an authoritative statement confirming this. Essentially, we were concerned about establishing the fundamental facts regarding Government policy, not to engage in a nit-picking, exhaustive analysis of every reported word and nuance relating to a single, isolated statement. We need to be careful about not becoming overly focused on what are essentially peripheral issues, to the detriment of seeing the bigger picture and to the point sometimes of stirring up needless controversy.
The Hon. Irwin Cotler Back in SA
Of the various international Jewish guests we have been involved with over the years, few have made so striking an impact as the Hon. Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Justice Minister and world-renowned human rights activist. Professor Cotler, who is currently back in the country at the behest of the IUA-UCF, has again worked closely with the Board, participating in a number of high level functions and meetings. In my next column, I will go into detail about these, mentioning here only two of the functions that have already taken place. In the first, the Board’s Gauteng Council partnered with the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre in hosting Professor Cotler’s address on the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg. In the second, we participated in his presentation the next day to 450 International Relations students at Wits University. Both events were a resounding success, and we are indebted yet again to our esteemed visitor for making them possible.
This Above Board column first appeared in the South African Jewish Report on 24 February 2012.