By Iqbal Jassat*
If Karima Brown is correct in her evaluation of President Jacob Zuma’s canny ability to gain ascendancy despite teetering on the brink, would it be an unreasonable expectation to have him propel South Africa to take a more hands-on approach regarding apartheid Israel?
I raise this question in respect of what is generally perceived to be South Africa’s weak and indecisive foreign policy that, barring occasional censure of Israeli conduct, seems to be largely silent and ineffective.
Brown, a highly respected journalist and commentator, in reviewing Zuma’s troubled past, points out how he bounces back to not only providing leadership to a fractured alliance, but also to effectively marginalize threats from a variety of internal threats.
Nevertheless, this otherwise fine analysis lacks a significant dimension: Zuma’s foreign policy!
Given that our advocacy work revolves around issues of Islamophobia and a number of themes related to the “war on terror” and the manner whereby rogue states such as Israel exploit these to shield their cowardly oppression from public scrutiny, the Media Review Network has always maintained that South Africa’s foreign policy initiatives to assist Palestine have been inadequate.
Current developments in the region along with the right-wing Netanyahu regime’s to scuttle America’s “peace” endeavours, makes an independent intervention by the Zuma presidency imperative and urgent.
Some cynics may think it ridiculous to imagine Zuma succeeding while powerful America cannot! Others may argue that it’s unthinkable for any developing country to arouse the wrath of Zionist lobbies that wield significant clout in the corporate environment. Yet other skeptics may wonder why on earth South Africa would venture into territory that may result in severe backlash not only from Israel, but also from so-called “frontline” Arab states whose frontline status derives from capitulating to the apartheid regime!
Notwithstanding the mythical creation of a wide array of convoluted and complex issues, I am convinced that a greater number of people require South Africa’s political, business and religious leadership – along with civil society and social movements – to reaffirm their collective moral authority by demanding the end of Israel. Indeed by being categorical in this demand insist too that all the inhabitants of Israel, the Occupied Territories and the millions of Palestinian refugees reclaim their right to live in equality and dignity within a single democratic state.
It’s a paradigm unique to South Africa and thus easier for leadership to undertake. After all it required the end of South Africa during the apartheid era for a new country to emerge wherein a Bill of Rights and Constitution guarantee life, liberty and more to all its citizens.
Demanding that Israel de-links from ideological values as abhorrent as apartheid and abandons Bantustan strategies whereby Palestinians are hostage to perpetual oppression could be an elementary, yet essential initial step. If its true that today one cannot find any South African who rationalizes apartheid’s legitimacy, then surely it ought not be difficult for Zuma to speak on behalf of the entire country in denouncing apartheid Israel and her repugnant human rights violations!
If anti-apartheid campaigns were initiated in Europe and elsewhere by the African National Congress [ANC] to successfully isolate racism and punish its perpetrators through sporting and cultural boycotts, it is nor far-fetched to advocate that similar campaigns be orchestrated and led against Israel today by the ruling party being the ANC.
During 1996, two years into the Nelson Mandela presidency, Edward Said expressed hope that the unworkability of Oslo embodied the end of the two-state solution. The challenge he identified was to find a peaceful way in which Jews, Muslims and Christians could coexist as equal citizens in the same land.
Fourteen years later, with Zuma having consolidated his leadership, it is an opportune time for him to chart a decisive foreign policy designed to urgently end repressive Israeli conduct and restore justice for Palestinians.
As Said would say: “The time has come to put Palestine back in the center as an ideal for individual action and individual commitment to principle in the same way that Mandela’s actions and principles inspired the anti-apartheid movement”.
Indeed, capitulation by the Obama administration has signaled that the time for South Africa to adopt a new policy towards Palestine has arrived.
– Iqbal Jassat is chairperson of the Media Review Network (MRN), an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com.