South Africa’s ruling African National Congress meets this week amid calls by its BDS supporters to downgrade or even eliminate the country’s embassy in Israel – a campaign that began long before US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Without reference to the diplomatic repercussions of such a further deterioration of relations between our two countries, South Africa’s Jewish and Christian communities are both campaigning against such a blatant expression of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism.
The need for such concerted action arose most glaringly following the recent lightning visit to the Palestinian Authority by Mandla Mandela, a staunch BDS supporter, member of Parliament, and grandson of iconic anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. It is notable that, before his four-day visit, Mandla Mandela met in Amman with Palestinian leader and BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti.
Mandela has called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to South Africa and has continuously supported the cutting of diplomatic ties. Among the protests against such an unwanted move, the South African Board of Jewish Deputies filed a complaint with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL).
The CRL noted that downgrading the embassy would probably be unconstitutional, because such a move would “unfairly impact on the ability of Africa’s Jews to practice and identify with their religious and cultural heritage,” CRL chairwoman Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva said at a symposium in Johannesburg.
Several Christian leaders have also come out strongly against the proposed downgrade and written submissions to the International Relations Subcommittee, as many Christian groups that regularly travel to Israel “would be deeply affected.”
A prominent clergyman, Pastor Prophet Paseka Motsoeneng, declared that “the embassy must not be downgraded. Instead, as South Africa, we must be encouraging unity and dialogue between Palestine and Israel. Our Christian heritage, as believers of Christ, finds its roots right in Israel, and the Bible urges us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The government of South Africa must guard against taking decisions that will spiritually alienate its citizens.”
This view was expressed last month at a symposium by Apostle Linda Gobodo of the Vuka Africa Foundation, who told reporters that “it will not only be Jews that will be negatively affected by a downgrade. Christian pilgrimages to Israel bring the Bible alive. A visit to the Holy Land is the highest spiritual experience that any Bible-believing Christian could have.”
It was no surprise that Hamas released a statement on Tuesday praising the mooted embassy downgrade.
“[The] ANC has been and is still a fraternal partner to the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance,” the statement said. “Our interaction with ANC leaders and members assures us that they will remain friends of the Palestinian struggle.”
It is unclear what Hamas has to offer the people of South Africa, other than echoing the PA’s delusional narrative, as Mandela stated at a joint press conference with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah: “Palestinians are being subjected to the worst version of apartheid.”
Standing in a Ramallah square next to a 6-meter bronze statue of Nelson Mandela, his grandson absurdly demanded “the return of 6 million Palestinian refugees driven from the land of their birth.” The multiplication of the original estimated refugees almost tenfold is another indication of the absence of facts that confounds peace efforts.
Is it important to note that, although Nelson Mandela was critical of “the occupation,” he fully supported Israel’s right to exist. As he stated during a visit here in 1999, “I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing if Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders.”
The ANC’s championing of BDS and antisemitism will not advance peace. It also comes at a time when Israel is creating new alliances in Africa, as demonstrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Kenya last month, his third to Africa in the last year and a half.
On all the trips, Netanyahu has skipped over South Africa, despite it being home to the continent’s largest Jewish community. The ANC’s continued effort to downgrade ties with Israel makes it clear why.