By Shafiq Morton
An op-ed (Cape Argus, 17 August) by Ben Levitas, chairman of the Cape Council of the South African Zionist Federation, alleges that South Africa’s foreign policy is now unfairly, if not irrationally, singling out Israel as an international pariah state.
However, his argument for “balance” on the question of Israel, especially with regards to sanctions, is a partisan cry. It betrays his sense of political equilibrium as being an uncritical support for the Zionist state.
His first point, which marries inference to political hyperbole, claims that “SA has allowed local politics (read the Muslim community) and the anti-Israel agenda of Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim (a member of the community) to determine foreign policy…”
Mr. Levitas ignores the fact that the idea of economic sanctions against Israel was adopted at the ANC policy conference at Gallagher Estate earlier this year, and not by the Muslim community. He neglects to say that the ANC policy document on Palestine specifically talks about a “credible inclusive dialogue” within a two-state framework.
He also forgets to notice that the Foreign Policy document included a focus on – amongst other nations – Somalia, Sudan, Cuba, the Western Sahara, Zimbabwe, the DRC, Syria, Swaziland and Haiti. In other words, within the framework of international relations, Israel was not an exclusive target of the ANC.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies’ notice 379 of 2012 – stating that goods manufactured by Israeli settlers on territory (deemed illegally occupied by international law) should not be labeled Israeli – is within the aegis of policy, as inconsistent as it may seem to Mr. Levitas.
Therefore, Mr. Levitas’ tacked-on assertion in his article that ANC policy on the Middle East could be “antithetical to SA’s national interest” actually means the direct opposite – it could be antithetical to Israel’s national interest.
South Africa calling for sanctions against Israel recalls an uncomfortable déjà vu of the 1980’s apartheid boycott era, especially if one considers that Israel – having promulgated more than 40 laws discriminating against indigenous Israeli-Arabs in the past five years – fits the legal definition of an apartheid state.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign is an international drive to peacefully remind Israel of its moral obligations to observe human rights, and the decent mores of international law – which it so frequently and flagrantly violates.
To this effect Alon Liel, a former Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, has acknowledged that the BDS campaign is a “non-violent wake-up call”. Avrum Burg, a former Speaker at the Knesset, was quoted in The Independent as saying it wouldn’t be “anti-Semitic” to say that settlement goods (produced on Palestinian land) were not kosher.
Mr. Levitas makes a thoroughly disingenuous tilt at the government with regards to a quote made by the Muslim Judicial Council on the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Islamic law expressly forbids extra-judicial killings (even if it is Bin Laden) but this seems to bother him. Interpreting his argument it is Bin Laden, and by extension Palestinians, who are “legitimate” targets of state-sponsored murder.
Deputy Minister Marius Fransman, whose sin it was to explain ANC policy formulations on Israel to the Cape Flats community (which is not exclusively Muslim), is mischievously asked whether he disagrees with the extra-judicial killing of Bin Laden. I think that it is Mr. Levitas, and not the Minister, who has to answer the question.
Mr. Levitas then descends into conspiracy when he asserts that the ANC has thrown its lot in with the Cape Town Muslim community on Palestine to win cheap votes. His argument loses all shape when Mr. Levitas argues that the Jews – a smaller demographic group – can be sacrificed and sidelined.
Again, facts are ignored. This statement belies the well-known turmoil within the local Jewish community on the issue of Palestine, and forgets that pro-Palestinian organizations such as Open Shuhada Street and the PSG have very active Jewish members.
Mr. Levitas’ naivety about foreign policy is revealed by his unsubtle inference that South Africa has marginalized human lives in places such as South Sudan in deference to Palestine. He forgets it was our former President, Thabo Mbeki, who recently brokered peace in the strife-torn Southern Sudan.
A further suggestion in Mr. Levitas’ article that Israel, unconditionally supported by South Africa, could contribute to solving some our “most pressing problems” is a vacuous cliché. To borrow from Israel Shahak: what on earth could a warmongering nation run by the generals, but dressed up as a democracy, offer South Africa?
One could go on scoring cheap points, but after a while, debunking the bluff of hasbara becomes a tedious, if not fruitless process. Crying sheep when you’ve been fingered as the wolf – as the Zionist lobby so famously does whenever Israel is criticized – has become a predictable response.
It begs the question: surely the time has come for Zionists to realize that they cannot go on defending the indefensible? Surely the time has come to challenge Israeli leaders who suffer paralysis whenever they have to talk peace, or recognize a Palestinian state?
Surely the time has come for Israel to realize that its future does not lie in demonizing the Arab world and Iran? Surely the time has come for Jews to understand that by recognizing Palestinian rights they will not suffer a second holocaust, or lose their identity.
Of course, the truism is that the leap of faith s currently required by Israel will ever be easy. Treaties are hardly ever negotiated between parties who like each other.
And in South Africa, aspirations by South Africans to contribute constructively to peace in the Middle East should not be belittled by the uninformed cynicism, or the strident political brinkmanship of those who should know better.
– Shafiq Morton is a presenter at Voice of the Cape radio station. He was South African Vodacom Community Journalist of the Year in 2008 and was recently voted amongst the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by the Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategies Study Centre headed by Prof John Esposito of Georgetown University. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.