It has often been said that people in glass houses should not throw stones. South African government officials disagree. They prefer to sit on their proverbial glass balconies flinging stones at those they deem guilty of moral turpitude. Recent changes in South African foreign policy, especially the attitude towards Israel, are reflective of this change. South Africa it seems, has identified a target for its international political posturing – Israel.
The two countries have always endured a complicated relationship but in the four years that have followed Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, there has been a marked deterioration in relations, culminating these last few months in an initiative by the Department of Trade and Industry to re-label goods produced in the West Bank as “goods from the occupied Palestinian territories” and a recommendation from the Deputy Minister of International Relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, that South Africans should not visit Israel for reasons other than “peace” as the country is guilty of “practices of Apartheid”.
What raises the ire of the South African Jewish community as well as the Israeli government is not just the singling out of the Jewish state at the expense of the real human rights violators such as Syria or Iran, but that South Africa has managed to achieve what the UN and other negotiating powers could not. Define borders. South Africa has stated that Israel exists within the 1948 or Auschwitz borders. The rest is occupied territory. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the world, including the Palestinian Authority who recognise the 1967 borders as a point of departure for final settlement negotiations. The South African Department of International Relations, along with the changing of its name from Foreign Ministry, must have undergone a lobotomy as well as a re-branding initiative!
Re-labelling issues and potential travel bans are just the latest in a litany of anti-Israel activity from South Africa. Who knows, maybe the Deputy Foreign Minister is afraid someone might visit Israel and actually see that the country does not practice Apartheid and is really rather interesting. Heaven forbid! And it is not the first time the office of the Department of International Relations has exhibited such behaviour. Anyone remember the brouhaha over comments made by Fatima Hajaig who also held the portfolio of Deputy Foreign Minister? Ms Hajaig is under the impression that “The control of America, just like the control of most Western countries, is in the hands of Jewish money,” she said. “If the Jewish money controls their country, then you cannot expect anything else.” A page right out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. South Africa was also one of the only countries to recall its Ambassador following Israel’s reaction to the Mavi Marmara Flotilla incident.
Where did this all begin and why from a country like South Africa who if they played their cards right, could help negotiate a solution between Israelis and Palestinians? By displaying such blatant bias, South Africa, have excluded themselves as any kind of peace broker.
Some say it started in 2001 at the UN Conference against Racism that was held at the seaside city of Durban. It was greatly symbolic that a conference of this kind was held in the country that successfully defeated the heinous Apartheid regime. Instead, the conference deteriorated into an Israel-bashing orgy and the Boycott Divestment Movement, designed to isolate and assault Israel’s legitimacy was launched. Through thousands of NGO’s, Durban 1 gave rise to some of the most vitriolic and venomous activists. Sadly, the South African Foreign Ministry at the time declared it “the jewel in the crown for South Africa.”
Following this, South Africa played host to the farcical Russell Tribunal where Israel was put on trial for crimes against Apartheid. Trial? More like kangaroo court! It would all seem so comical if it weren’t for the fact that South Africa really does matter. This is the country where Apartheid was born and defeated. If Israel is condemned as an Apartheid State by South Africa than surely it must be so. Facts and reality notwithstanding. Many countries view South Africa as the barometer by which racism is measured.
But isn’t the singling out of one State for approbation at the expense of true human rights transgressors not racism? Aren’t the recommendations of travel restrictions indicative of a darker past? People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Rolene Marks is a member of the Media Team Israel, a voluntary body under the auspices of the South African Zionist Federation that counters bias against Israel in the media. She has written numerous published opinion-editorials, addressed groups and has been featured on radio and television countering bias against Israel.