“South Africa has the opportunity to reset its Israel-Pa …

Two South African groups – one pro Palestine and the other pro Israel – protest outside Parliament in 2018 (Photo: EPA-EFE / NIC BOTHMA)

As far as Israel is concerned, there has been no space for dialogue or for a balanced discussion in public spaces in South Africa. With a fragile new government formed in Israel this week, South Africa has the opportunity to reset and re-establish its influence, ties and relations in the region.

Arthur Lenk is a former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa. He studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (LL.B. and LL.M.) and is a member of the bars of Israel and New York.

Just this week, after two years of political stalemate and three undecided elections, a fragile new Israeli government was formed. Among the full partners of this unity coalition with wide representation across Israeli democracy is the Islamist Ra’am party. The government also appears to have the quiet support of a number of additional Arab parties. It has an Arab Minister for Regional Cooperation and a Druze Minister in the Ministry of Finance. Arab parliamentarians head at least two committees in the Knesset and there is a renewed awareness and appreciation of the need to improve inter-communal economic, social and security issues in Israel.

The change of government and the departure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years offers South Africa the opportunity to reset its relations with Israel. He should quickly appoint and send an ambassador to his embassy in Israel and establish a constructive dialogue with the new government after too many years of silence.

Since leaving South Africa four years ago, I have been following events closely through connections with friends, business connections and by reading this post regularly. Along with South African friends around the world, I deeply sympathize with the range of local challenges, from power and water shortages to the extreme difficulties of battling the pandemic and too many secret envelopes and missed appearances. before judicial commissions.

At the same time, one problem has remained constant – the “success” of a small and noisy anti-Israel lobby in preventing South Africa from having any real impact on Israel-Palestine. It is quite rare that an Israeli voice is heard here, a great loss for a place that values ​​the exchange of views and seeks conflict resolution.

At the same time, the word ‘apartheid’ appears to be experiencing a political renaissance in 2021. However, it is evident that usage seems to have migrated from a legal / historical definition of a specific terrible event in South Africa to an epithet meaning unjust or cruel. Some examples include ‘vaccine apartheid’ and ‘gender apartheid’ – to describe the injustice of the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and patriarchal policies against women’s equality in countries like Arabia Arabia.

Paradoxically, real apartheid-type situations never seem to use this term. Apartheid exists in 2021, in the laws of almost all Islamic states limiting the rights of non-Muslims and women, or in China’s policies regarding migrant workers and the Uyghur minority community. Nobody dares to speak out.

The word is mainly used these days (and more often only against Israel) for shock and marketing value, not because anyone who cares about being true to the real story really believes it to be true. Using the word is a public relations strategy by NGOs and activists who want to change the debate from a debate on security, compromise and coexistence by radically altering the map of the Levant. Jews carefully oppose the abuse of the words “Shoah” and “Holocaust” with a deep conscience that overuse weakens. I don’t understand why many South Africans don’t do the same for “apartheid”.

In fact, in the context of the grueling Israeli-Palestinian conflict, human rights have long been used as a weapon in the war on public opinion. Does shame work? Do these human rights campaigns encourage Palestinians to resume negotiations or to compromise? Above all, is the objective to improve the situation or simply to delegitimize Israel?

Abusing terms such as colonialism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and anti-Zionism aims to erase Israel. A prime example was the anti-Semitism evident in the protests at Golders Green in London, Brooklyn, New York, and the Glenhazel neighborhood of Johannesburg, all of which focused on local Jewish communities and not on local Israeli embassies or consulates. .

There is a huge difference between criticizing policies and calling for the destruction of the only Jewish state in the world. One could certainly wonder where are the pro-Palestinian and human rights activists on Palestinian rights in Lebanon, Syria, in the Gulf or even on the actions of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. .

Where is the pro-Palestinian outrage over the Hamas rockets that have landed in Gaza or that are fired from homes or schools (let alone the targeting of Israeli civilians)? Silence on the lack of rights of LGBTQ communities, women, Christians and systematic hate education in the West Bank and Gaza. After recent statements by the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) about tunnels under schools and Israelis’ cautious actions targeting fighters, its commissioner was forced to flee Gaza. Perhaps the “friends of Palestine” are not quite pro-Palestinian but anti-Israel.

No organization is excluded from this assault on Israel’s stigma. Bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Council have systemic and intrinsic anti-Israel biases. A wide range of abuse and harm is allowed to international organizations, including the World Health Organization, UNESCO and, most absurdly, the International Criminal Court which seems to be making up rules over and over again to be able to exert pressure. (uh, judge) for Palestine.

South Africa has even gone further than almost any other country in its one-sided vision and support for the Palestinians and in its criticism of Israel. On the ground, there has been no space for dialogue, for viewpoints that discuss Israel in a balanced way in public spaces or offer different perspectives.

But in doing so, South Africa has had no other impact than harming its own interests. He made himself unnecessary to facilitate any positive development between Israel and Palestine. The absence of a South African ambassador to Israel has diminished its influence, relations and relations in the region. Statements by some officials have been so ludicrous that they are mostly ignored and even when noticed they further diminish South Africa’s credibility. The so-called human rights groups in South Africa have no human rights agenda other than to denigrate Israel and South African Jews.

Today there is an opportunity for a reset. South Africa should join governments around the world and extend its warmest wishes to the new government and quickly appoint a high representative in Israel who can speak and listen, share South Africa’s stories and promote trade and tourism. He or she can learn from the things Israel does well – vaccinating its audience, world-class innovation, respecting LGBTQ communities – and offering Pretoria’s perspective on issues such as a peace process with the Palestinians and a overview of Africa.

Much of the international community, from the Emirates to Morocco and India to Sudan, has deepened relations with Israel in recent years. This week’s news provides South Africa with an excellent opportunity to promote issues that are important to its people and which should be embraced with both hands. DM

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