South Africa’s Jewish and Christian communities have launched several campaigns to encourage the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress, not to downgrade its embassy in Israel.
A social media campaign, a weekend of prayers, a symposium and several formal submissions to the ANC’s International Relations Subcommittee are just some of the ways the communities have taken action.
At the party’s July conference, the ANC called for a downgrade of the embassy to a “liaison office,” saying it was “concerned by the lack of commitment from Israel to finding a resolution to the Palestinian question.”
At the time, the party said such action should be to done “to send a strong message about Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestine and the continued human rights abuses against the peoples of Palestine.”
A decision on the matter is expected to be taken at the party’s National Policy Conference this month.
South African Jewish Board of Deputies national director Wendy Kahn said that during July’s conference, the chairwoman of the ANC’s International Relations Subcommittee, Edna Molewa, called SAJBD president Mary Kluk and assured her that there had been divergent views and that there would be a risk analysis conducted in the lead-up to the Elective Conference in December. Molewa voiced her intention to include the SAJBD in this process.
“They have been true to their word and have included us – we’ve had meetings with them and shared the implications on many fronts,” Kahn told The Jerusalem Post. “In addition, we also put in a submission on behalf of the community... many communal organizations that will be affected also wrote submissions.” Among them were the SA Israel Chamber of Commerce, youth movements, schools and organizations such as Maccabi and the Union of Orthodox Synagogues. Many religious studies teachers receive their training and get their religious input and instruction from Israel, while many rabbis from UOS are trained in Israel. Youth movements also have programs that send members to Israel.
The SAJBD also lodged a formal complaint with the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL), which has taken this matter “extremely seriously.”
The CRL has said recently that downgrading the embassy would be unconstitutional.
If South Africa were to downgrade its embassy in Israel, it would “unfairly impact on the ability of Africa’s Jews to practice and identify with their religious and cultural heritage. As such, it would probably be unconstitutional,” said Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva, chairwoman of the CRL, at a November symposium in Johannesburg.
She added that the Jewish community’s rights would be violated, should the downgrade take place.
Asked about the social media campaign #NoToEmbassyDowngrade, Nicci Raz, South African Zionist Federation national director, said it was designed to reinforce several elements.
“We have covered a range of themes with regards to the impact of a downgrade on general South Africans (not just the Jewish community). This includes cultural, political, religious, economic/bilateral trade, tourism, agriculture and technology,” she said. “The campaign consists of both posts and video content outlining and supporting the facts and implications that have been addressed in various reports and panel discussions over the last few months. All posts are linked to a portal called Real Facts where people can access more information on this and other Israel-related topics.”
Raz said that the design is simple but powerful in that it brings in the colors of the ANC (yellow, green and black) “as well as the tag line ‘Put South Africans First,’ which is playing to the general disillusionment of South Africans with the current ANC leadership, who seem to be focused in all the wrong areas.
“We have targeted people from 18 to 65 years of age from across South Africa – all religions with a political interest,” she said. “It’s been a very successful campaign with continued engagement and great feedback, our current platforms have grown exponentially, and we have a lot of international support. The social media element, although just one of the strategies in our fight to prevent this decision, is crucial in today’s times when people are using social media to educate themselves on the facts,” Raz said.
The Jewish community has also called for a weekend of prayer from Friday until Sunday. It has encouraged the Christian community to take part as well.
Several Christian leaders have also come out strongly against the proposed downgrade and written submissions to the International Relations Subcommittee, as many Christian groups that regularly travel to Israel “will be deeply affected.”
Influential pastor Prophet Paseka Motsoeneng, popularly known as Prophet Mboro of the Incredible Happenings Ministries in South Africa, will launch a #HandsOffIsrael campaign shortly, in response to the proposed downgrade.
“The embassy must not be downgraded. Instead, as South Africa, we must be encouraging unity and dialogue between Palestine and Israel,” he said. “Our Christian heritage, as believers of Christ, finds its roots right in Israel, and the Bible urges us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. The government of South Africa must guard against taking decisions that will spiritually alienate its citizens.”
Mboro explained that the campaign will be a national program of prayer and demonstration of solidarity with the spiritual home of the majority of South Africans, who are of Christian faith.
“Through #HandsOffIsraelSA, we want to show the world that as Christians in South Africa we don’t support any initiatives aimed at undermining our Christian heritage and campaigning for the destruction of the State of Israel,” said Mboro. “Our view is that Israel and Palestine must be encouraged to coexist peacefully, and as South Africa we should encourage dialogue, not segregation.”
At a symposium last month, Apostle Linda Gobodo of Vuka Afrika said that “it will not only be Jews that will be negatively affected by a downgrade.
“Christian pilgrimages to Israel bring the Bible alive,” she said. “A visit to the Holy Land is the highest spiritual experience that any Bible-believing Christian could have.”
Gobodo said that her organization, like many other Christian organizations, arrange regular pilgrimages to Israel.
“I myself am a regular visitor to Israel. A downgrade would jeopardize that, since Israel might retaliate and shut down its embassy in South Africa,” Gobodo cautioned. “Having to apply for a visa would have a devastating effect on South African Christians, who visit Israel almost every week.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, Hamas praised the ANC’s proposed embassy downgrade.
“For Palestinians, this conference is important, as the ANC delegates will be discussing a recommendation from the party’s policy conference held in July, which proposes that the South African Embassy to Israel be either downgraded or completely shut down,” Hamas said. “This is the logical extension of the ANC’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
“[The] ANC has been and is still a fraternal partner to the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance,” the statement said. “Our interaction with ANC leaders and members assures us that they will remain friends of the Palestinian struggle.”
The ANC conference is to take place between December 16 and December 20.