Downgrade of SA Embassy in Israel a step in the right direction

Palestinians participate in a protest against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. File picture: Muammar Awad/Xinhua
As a Christian I am angry. I am angry that Donald Trump, Israel and its lobby use my religion to conflate, confuse and complicate the issue of Israel and Palestine. This is often done by the Israeli lobby by quoting reactionary and conservative so–called Christians leaders who are discredited on almost all issues from gender to ethics.

Most recently one observes this in the context of Trump’s announcing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. One of the only people in the world to have welcomed Trump’s move was Kenneth Meshoe of the ACDP – a sexist who belongs to the only party that voted against the adoption of our constitution in 1995. The Israeli lobby, if its friends are anything to go by, are morally bankrupt and their deliberate conflation of Biblical Israel with the Modern Apartheid State of Israel is a blasphemous attempt to win over support for the Israeli regime and its dastardly acts against the indigenous Palestinians.

Reverend Thulani Ndlazi of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, which was one of several churches and Christians bodies that condemned Trump’s move, explains that: “Jerusalem is an ancient city which Jewish, Christian and Islam share. The current Israeli apartheid government should never be confused with the biblical children of Israel. Like the old South African apartheid government the Israeli apartheid government of today is driven by evil political ambitions and manipulating theological arguments to justify their evil acts such as oppression, injustice and heinous crimes against Palestinian people.” Palestinians, in fact, are the descendants of the first followers of Christ!

Several members of the church that I belong to, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa KZN Diocese, held prayers this past Sunday against Trump’s move and in support for the downgrade of the SA Embassy in Israel. One of the leaders of this initiative was Reverend Nthuthuko Nkosi who, in a public call, warned “against making this into a religious ‘conflict’ as it is a human rights issue. Our solidarity with the Palestinian people unites us as South Africans and we should caution those like the Israeli-lobby who want to make it into a divisive issue in our country.”

Indeed, the peoples of South Africa and Palestine have always enjoyed comradely relations. The Deputy Secretary-General of the ANC, Jessie Duarte, in an article supporting the downgrade of the SA Embassy in Israel, goes into detail of how this relationship was forged years ago in the struggle against Apartheid. She writes: “In his address at the state banquet hosting President Yasser Arafat, the late President Nelson Mandela noted the supporting role played by Palestinians towards the liberation of the people of South Africa despite not possessing freedom themselves. This recognition was important, alluded Madiba, as it showed the immense sacrifices that Palestinians made, even placing the liberation of others above their own.”

Duarte goes on to explain the logic, within this context, for the downgrade of the embassy in Israel: “As the ANC therefore prepares for its National Conference, South Africa’s future relations with Israel hangs in the balance and rightly so. For over two decades, South Africa has pleaded with Israelis and worked with them, together with local groups, to ensure that injustices do not continue. Yet these have gone on unabated…”

Importantly, while championed by branches of the ANC, the call for the immediate and unconditional downgrade of the SA Embassy in Israel to a Representative/Liaison office, has actually come from the Palestinians themselves. They may have many differences but all the Palestinian political groups including the ANC’s fraternal partner, Fateh together with Hamas, the PFLP as well as the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Government, are unified and unanimous in their support for the downgrade.

Support for the downgrade has also come from progressive Jewish Israeli allies who are working in partnership with Palestinians towards a just peace. In their letter a group of Jewish Israelis have written: “After many years of trying to change our society from within, we have come to the conclusion that an international campaign, such as the boycott against apartheid South Africa, is necessary…governments, including the South African government, should be downgrading diplomatic relations and their embassies in Israel, to send a clear message to Israel that its violations of international law are unacceptable. Ultimately we call on the ANC to strengthen its support for the BDS movement and Palestinian struggle.

“In any situation of injustice one must take ones’ lead from the oppressed and this is exactly what the ANC is doing. The downgrade is actually a natural step in the direction that the ANC has taken in recent time on the issue of Palestine. At its most recent congress, its 2015 NGC, the ANC resolved on several measures including a “travel boycott” and to “continually review South Africa’s relations with the State of Israel and encourage disengagement on programmes and activities that may impact on our solidarity with the people of Palestine.”

For internationalists, this is the starting and ending point – what are the oppressed asking for. And, we won’t lose much, if at all, for our solidarity. According to a report promoted by the Israeli lobby itself, relative to total trade, trade between SA and Israel is, “small”. The report explains that, according to Reserve Bank data, Israel’s investment stock in SA amounts to 0.15% of all foreign direct investment (FDI) stock. A further indication of how insignificant Israeli trade with South Africa is are our import and export figures, as per Department of Trade and Industry statistics: Israeli exports into South Africa are approximately 0,3% (less than half a percent) while imports are even less at 0,26%, simply put, less than a quarter of a percent. Furthermore, bilateral tourism flows are also insignificant, with Israeli tourists accounting for only 0.25% of total tourist arrivals in 2016. According to the report by the Israeli lobby: “a rupture would not cause major damage to the South African economy” nor “result in major economic disruption.”

The downgrade of the SA Embassy in Israel is a step in the right direction, however, to really have an economic impact on Israel the ANC must seriously consider imposing full sanctions on Israel.

* Dudu Masango-Mahlngu serves on the Board of BDS South Africa and is the coordinator of the South African Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompanier Program Israel-Palestine.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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