JOHANNESBURG (JTA) – A resolution aimed at boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel could gain majority support at this week’s National Conference of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party. A marked anti-Israel swing by the South African government in recent months has caused consternation among South African Jews and Christian supporters of Israel.
This concern reached a climax with the possibility of the passage of a boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, resolution at the ANC’s 53rd National Conference in Mangaung, which ends Dec. 20.
Government moves in recent months include a call by Deputy Minister of International Relations Ebrahim Ebrahim for South Africans not to visit Israel and a promulgated ban
on goods from “the occupied territories” entering South Africa by Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies. Another Deputy Minister of International Relations, Marius Fransman delivered a Ramadan message to South Africa’s 750,000 Muslims, which is nearly ten times the number of Jews in the country, in a blatant move to garner votes by showing that the government was with them on the Palestine issue.
These moves were reinforced by former Deputy President and current ANC Chairperson Baleka Mbete at a recent international conference in South Africa, when she firmly supported
anti-Israel BDS moves.
Now the possibility has surfaced of a binding resolution coming from the current conference, which began Sunday, and has raised further worries, in view of South Africa’s official policy of even-handedness on the Middle East. This is apparently fading, particularly in view of long-standing ANC support for the Palestinians from the anti-apartheid struggle days.
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies sent a letter to the ANC prior to the conference in which it calls for evenhandedness on the Israel-Palestinian issue, and asks that the letter be read out loud at the conference if the resolution is proposed.
An open letter to the ANC signed by a number of religious leaders was published on the front page of South Africa’s widest-circulating paper, the Sunday Times. It called on the ANC not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Titled “Choosing Peace”, the letter outlined the violence and battles throughout the ages for control of Israel.
“The current renewed conflict in the Middle East is a deep-rooted religious conflict and a human tragedy for everyone caught up in its escalating violence. We all must do what we can to lower tensions and help create conditions for peace. If rash partisan action by one part of our South African society results in our country becoming a new front in the confrontation – pitting South Africans of different religious backgrounds against each other in support of one or other of the protagonists in the Holy Land conflict – peace suffers over there and over here,” the letter read.
“When South Africa’s ruling party chooses sides in this bitter conflict, our country loses the credibility to be a voice for peace between the parties, and only the agenda of conflict is served. Such actions impede a peaceful solution that would enable Jews to live in their ancient Biblical land in peace side by side with their Muslim neighbors.”
The letter was signed by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and co-chairman of National Religious Leaders Council; Pastor Ray McCauley, president of the International Federation of Christian Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council; Inkosi Vukile Jehovushilo Shembe, of the Nazareth Baptist Church; Professor Nelus Niemandt, moderator of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church; Dr Izak Burger, president of the Apostolic Faith Mission; Pastor Mosa Sono, of the Grace Bible Church; Bishop Stephen B. Zondo, of the Church of Rivers of Living Waters; and Chief Rabbi of South Africa Dr. Warren Goldstein.