Has South Africa turned a corner in its foreign policy towards Israel?

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South Africa’s response to the dastardly act of piracy and blatant savagery by the Israeli regime is reflective of a global mood that is increasingly becoming less tolerant of contemptuous disregard for international obligations flowing from a variety of conventions.

In addition to the decision to recall its Tel Aviv based ambassador, South Africa has also summoned the Israeli ambassador and presented him with a demarche, the strongest possible diplomatic protest short of expulsion. And included among 31 nations on the UN Human Rights Council, South Africa voted in support of a resolution that condemned Israel’s outrageous attack and endorsed a full inquiry into the incident.

These moves have been welcomed by an array of civil society groups as well as the powerful labour movement COSATU. Muslim and Christian leaders alike from formations such as the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the South African Council of Churches (SACC) have welcomed this fresh and significant intervention by the Zuma presidency. All in all it would be accurate to conclude that the government’s decisions are in line with views held by the majority of this country’s population.

Though government’s position is being attacked –” not unexpected, by the troika of Israeli defense lobbies as “premature and inappropriate and disproportionate”, it is apparent that despite claiming to speak for South African Jewry, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, the SA Zionist Federation and the Chief Rabbi do not hold any monopoly on Jewish voices.

Indeed, it is remarkable that following their dismal and foolish attempt to bar Judge Richard Goldstone from attending his grandson’s barmitzvah a huge outcry ensued from many leading Jewish personalities causing them to hastily backtrack. Many issues of the Jewish Report bear testimony to this fact through publishing angry letters and articles questioning the wisdom of censoring Goldstone.

Apart from the public embarrassment they endured from some biting criticism, it also became clear that the absolute monopoly they claim to possess to speak for all Jews was severely and irreparably exposed as non-existent. It’s evident too that because Jewish opinion on the question of Israel is divided, government must not allow this troika any importance beyond its limited influence.

For the Zuma presidency to cross the “Rubicon”, it is necessary to transform foreign policy imperatives on the Middle East in its entirety. It therefore requires honest soul-searching. The review must undertake an assessment of whether any meaningful gains have been made in respect of advancing Palestinian rights enshrined in various UN resolutions. In addition, the wisdom of having ties in an abnormal situation whereby diplomatic missions exist in both the Occupied Territories [OT] as well as in Israel has to be interrogated.

Our reading and widespread interaction with victims in the OT reveal that such a practise does not advance equilibrium. In fact it retards any meaningful progress government may be inclined to advance in securing Palestinian self-determination for obvious reasons. One of these is that in the same way the occupation inhibits freedom so too does it prohibit our mission in Ramallah from exercising its diplomatic business especially in limiting free trade and a host of other activities.

The absence of any equilibrium has to be acknowledged. Indeed, such an immoral and abnormal set of circumstances as dictated to by Israel, unfairly and unjustly allows the occupier disproportionate advantages. Thus, retaining ties with Israel and its surrogate in Ramallah is wholly iniquitous!

To continue a comprehensive overhaul it is necessary too that an evaluation be made of the wisdom of being exclusively hooked to an authority led by Fatah that was convincingly defeated during the last elections. Are they representative of popular Palestinian opinion? Can they truly claim to be acting in the best interest of the people? As a redundant entity with no legitimacy is it not a disservice to the Palestinians to allow them to direct the international community to support a flawed and fruitless indirect engagement as prescribed by the US administration?

The current decisive moves by South Africa to make known its extreme displeasure at Israeli savagery will be inconsequential if we fail to subject foreign policy to a vigorous interrogation.

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