The past week has been a difficult one not just for our Jewish community, but for the country as a whole. Overshadowing the difficult situation that has arisen regarding the South Africa-Israel relationship, which has been brought to the fore by the actions of certain hard-line anti-Israel elements within government, is obviously the Lonmin shooting tragedy. It was profoundly shocking to all of us to witness how even eighteen years after the transition to democracy, deadly confrontations reminiscent of some of the darkest corners of our collective past can still take place in our country.
Another very disturbing incident was the deadly hate crime that claimed the life of a member of the Muslim community, Fayaaz Kazi. The suspected perpetrators have been apprehended and the full facts of the incident will in due course emerge in court, but at this stage there seems little doubt that the victim was targeted because of his religion.
The Board issued press statements on both of these cases. We believe that it is important for us, as the representative spokesbody for SA Jewry, to sometimes participate in the broader national conversation, especially when issues of prejudice and discrimination are concerned.
The third press statement that we issued last week was a combined one, released under the names of the Board, SA Zionist Federation and Office of the Chief Rabbi. It was released in response to certain reported statements emanating from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation clearly intimating that boycotts against Israel have now become official government policy. Specifically, Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim stated that his department discouraged South Africans from visiting Israel, not just at the official but even the individual level. Inter alia, our statement characterised this stance as being “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”.
So far as we are concerned, moving from critical rhetorical to active boycott crosses a red line. Just as we have been pulling out all the stops to confront the Department of Trade and Industry’s heavily politicised relabeling policy re products from West Bank settlements, so have we been drawing on all available resources to counter-act this dangerous foreign policy trend. It is important to emphasise that there are differing schools of thought within the ruling party on the whole question, and while the hard-line boycottist faction would seem to be in the ascendancy at present, the question of what is in fact government policy is far from clear. The work we are currently doing through our diplomatic channels aims both at achieving clarity on the question and a confirmation at the highest level that South Africa is, in fact, committed to maintaining full diplomatic relations with Israel. Already, as a result of both internal and external pressure, the Deputy Minister has backtracked somewhat from his original unequivocal pronouncements. Hopefully, it will be possible to report back next week on real progress made in resolving the whole unfortunate situation.
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