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November 15, 2021 12:57 pm
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South African Government Denounced for Pulling Support for Contestant Participating in Israel’s Miss Universe Event

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A group of pro-Palestinian supporters protested on Friday in front of Miss South Africa offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. The protesters promote a boycott campaign against the Miss Universe pageant that will be held in Eilat, Israel, starting on December 12, 2021. Photo: EFE / EPA/Reuters

The South African government said on Sunday that it would not endorse the newly-crowned Miss South Africa participating in next month’s Miss Universe pageant set to take place in Israel.

The government’s decision came after beauty queen Lalela Mswane faced online pressure to boycott the Dec. 12 pageant in Eilat in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“The atrocities committed by Israel against Palestinians are well documented and [the] Government, as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa, cannot in good conscience associate itself with such,” the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture said on Sunday.

The statement added that after it “has proven difficult to persuade the Miss SA pageant organizers to reconsider their decision to partake in the Miss Universe event,” the government “withdraws its support,” following the organizers’ “intransigence.”

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South Africa’s Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa also claimed that competing in the international pageant could “prove disastrous to [Mswane’s] future and public standing as a young, black woman.”

Masechaba Khumalo, a spokesperson for the ministry, told the South African news station Newzroom Afrika that the issue has nothing to do with Mswane, but is “particularly based on the fact that [the Miss Universe pageant] is being hosted by the Israeli nation.”

“As South Africans, we know and understand the significant of cultural boycotts. We know the significant of taking a stand … and these stands take to the collective pressure for systematic change,” Khumalo added.

She added, “It is not in our best interest as a nation to submit to this type of event, especially knowing how oppressed the people of Palestine have been by Israel. It’s not a good move and we don’t stand for it as a department and and we certainty don’t stand for it as a government.”

The Miss Universe title is a privately owned entity and not government affiliated. Khumalo explained that Lalelei can “do whatever she wants” and represent South Africa in the pageant through the Miss South Africa organization, but that “should they proceed, we want nothing to do with it. If she decides to go or if the Miss South Africa organizers decides to take her there [to Israel], we are distancing from it. We don’t endorse South Africa going to Miss Universe in Israel.”

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) slammed the government for its “cowardly” targeting of Israel, saying it was “self-sabotaging our country’s hopes and chances of participating and shining in an international event just because it happens to take place in Israel.”

The pro-Israel body said South Africa seems “determined to spite itself and remain on the sidelines of progress” as nations like Sudan and Morocco move forward in building relations with Israel.

“Our country is simply signaling its isolationism and irrelevance on the world stage,” the federation added. “The government has been silent on actual and serious human rights abuses occurring in many other countries where we participate in sports and contests, but self-righteously reserves its opprobrium for the world’s only Jewish state.”

The South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) said on Sunday it is “deeply saddened and disappointed” by the announcement.

“Through these actions, the government has shown its lack of political intelligence and has undermined the very process it claims to support,” SAUJS said in a statement. “The South African government achieves nothing in bringing us closer to a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but ironically further from it. The government has once again become so caught up in its political agenda that it has failed to see that collaboration – not dissociation — with Israel is the right way forward.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) also condemned the government’s withdrawal of support for Mswane.

“The way we influence situations is to engage, not to withdraw,” the organization said. “The SAJBD believes that closing doors merely isolates us from contributing and any contribution we can make to finding peace in this country. What better opportunity for a South African to be part of an event where she can connect with 70 countries around the world, including many Arab countries, in sharing our story of dialogue and peace-building?”

SAJBD also cited a poll conducted by Newzroom Afrika on Thursday night that showed South Africans are in favor nearly 2-1 of Mswane competing in the Miss Universe event in Israel.

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