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The Jewish Report Editorial

The week that went horribly wrong

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Last week came so close to ending on a high note for South African Jewry after Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) almost seemed to pass us by without any distress.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Apr 11, 2019

But it all changed so quickly after it dawned on us what Lindiwe Sisulu, the South African Minister of International Affairs and Cooperation, had meant to say (but didn’t) at her briefing late last Wednesday night.

She basically declared that the South African embassy in Israel was history, and the downgrade was already in progress. It was on its way to being a mere liaison office, with “no political mandate, no trade mandate, and no development co-operation mandate”. It would be for “consular and the facilitation of people-to-people relations only”.

Suddenly the fear we had of the downgrade became a reality.

Then, Sketchy Bongo, the musician who happily performed at Wits on behalf of the South African Union of Jewish Students during the IAW #NoPlaceForHateCampaign, apologised “deeply” for performing. While he denied being threatened and cajoled, it was evident on social media that was not the case.

In his apology, he clearly alerted the following organisations: the Progressive Youth Alliance – which includes the ANC Youth League and Muslim Student Association, the Palestine Solidarity Committee, and the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund. Why on earth would he do that if he had not been read the riot act by them? Come on!

Turning tail, he tweeted that he had been “educated by your messages this evening”, which then led him to do “further research”. After that, he wrote that he felt “terrible about accepting money for this show I didn’t fully understand”. He then promised never to make this mistake again.

What on earth did they threaten him with? Sounds a whole lot like what happened to celebrity Shashi Naidoo, who was pulled into the fold of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions organisation after she succumbed to threats. This is upsetting, least of all because it was a #NoPlaceForHateCampaign, and was about building bridges, not breaking them down.

It astonishes me how easily people who are ignorant about the situation in the Middle East can be fed a whole lot of hatred.

Going back to the far more important issue of the minister and her declarations, you may wonder why I am questioning what she says.

First, I am curious to know why she didn’t actually make these declarations when she delivered her speech, but left them be found online. Perhaps she had decided against saying it. Is that a possibility? If so, why?

Second, it feels like we have been blindsided by this declaration, in spite of it having been in the ether since the ANC Electoral Conference in December 2017. Then, the decision to downgrade the embassy was made by the ruling party, not government.

And yes, there have been many public mutterings about it, but it has never been a fait accompli.

Besides, it was only very recently that the minister herself was talking about wanting South Africa to get involved in the negotiation process between Palestinians and Israel. So did President Cyril Ramaphosa on a number of occasions. In some of those instances, it was directed at our community, but in others, the declarations were made to the broader public.

There is simply no way South Africa can participate in negotiations for peace if it has cut ties with one side. So, why say this if you are going ahead with severing links and downgrading the embassy in Israel? It doesn’t make sense.

Also, the minister spoke about how the former ambassador, Sisa Ngombane, was recalled to South Africa in May last year. This was true. However, he went back at the end of September last year ostensibly to resume his duties, according to an embassy letter that was put out.

Then, after the anti-Israel lobby became hysterical, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation backpedalled, saying Ngombane had gone back to Israel for personal reasons, and would return.

However, I have it on good authority that he did not come home again until he had completed his term, which was in December last year.

So much secrecy and mixed messages.

Is our embassy in Israel really in the throes of a full downgrade?

I ask this because we are in election season, and it brings many promises that will never be fulfilled. It also often results in politicians saying things they believe the electorate wants to hear. This is normal.

For sure, the Jewish electorate doesn’t want to hear what Sisulu said, and we will fight tooth and nail to prevent it.

But, perhaps the minister and her government is under the impression that those they want to vote for them do want the embassy to be downgraded.

I believe there are people who do want this, but research has shown that though they are a very vocal, loud, and bombastic group, they are certainly not the majority of South Africans, nor that big a group. They just believe they are right, and will do whatever they can to destroy Israel.

I can only hope that somehow this is more electioneering, and less a fait accompli, as our community will feel it the most.

Shabbat Shalom!

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