Lieberman’s racism is anathema to South Africa

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South Africa’s foreign ministry seems to be unusually silent over recent developments following the Israeli elections.

It seems to be biding its time either to allow the new government under Benjamin Netanyahu to signal that Israeli democracy has triumphed yet again by entrenching right-wing hawks, murderers and war mongers in power; or to take the cue from Palestinians as to the best approach in dealing with the new regime.

In either case, South Africa’s foreign policy options may be limited. Even if this is the case, does it mean that as a sovereign, independent country South Africa has no opinion worthy of a public discourse?

Or perhaps it’s the timing? The fall out from a hugely embarrassing and controversial decision to bar the Dalai Lama entry to the country occurred at about the same time that the Netanyahu circus’ new ringmaster has been responsible for many red-faces in Israel.

It’s true that the Dalai Lama fiasco has left many government spokespersons shamefaced. The humiliation of having to defend charges of manipulation resulting from Chinese money-power left many senior African National Congress [ANC] members with red-faces of their own.

Yet, the question remains: What is South Africa’s stance on the Netanyahu regime?

While policy positions on ways to address the appointment of Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman as Israel’s foreign minister and his party’s strong representation in the Knesset may not be a priority for South Africa at a time when the country is in election mode, it would be imprudent to ignore it.

South Africa has since the advent of democracy following the defeat of apartheid, been viewed as a prime supporter of Palestinian rights. Both the state and an overwhelming majority of its population have viewed the Palestinian freedom struggle as its own. Senior figures in the post-apartheid fabric, ranging from Nelson Mandela to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have consistently argued for a swift resolution to the conflict allowing a free and independent Palestine to take its rightful position among the free nations of the world.

Yet, despite the excitement created each time senior leaders pronounce their commitment to Palestine, it appears to be business as usual with Israel. Thus not surprising that trade ties and economic advances between a free South Africa and apartheid Israel are viewed as an anathema by most of the population. It is constantly argued that such links serve to empower Israel as much as they erode, disable and disrupt the Palestinian cause.

Lieberman is the best reason for South Africa to urgently undertake a review of its ties to Israel. The Soviet-born ultra-nationalist who on the day after his appointment as Israel’s foreign minister announced that the Netanyahu regime would not be bound by Annapolis has in fact given the green light to countries such as South Africa to un-bind its trade and political links.

Since South Africa placed a huge deal of dependence on Annapolis –” having committed a substantial amount of money towards it too –” it stands to reason that any expectation of a leap towards Palestinian statehood by a Netanyahu cabinet with an apartheid mindset would be extremely naïve.

Indeed, it would be foolish too to continue believing that having fully fledged diplomatic relations with Israel is equivalent to having a representative office in Ramallah. Such inequality in ties between an oppressive occupying power and its brutalized victims can never be justified as “diplomatic equilibrium”.

In any event such misguided policies which characterized former President Thabo Mbeki’s need for “balance” are further weakened by placing a higher premium on being chained to the leadership of Abu Mazen’s Fatah faction rather than the democratically elected leaders of Palestine’s leading movement, Hamas.

Though encouraging signs have emerged from the current government led by President Kgalema Motlanthe such as his willingness to reach out to Hamas, it remains to be seen whether his likely successor Jacob Zuma will intensify this approach with the seriousness it deserves.

For now its reasonable to expect a public denouncement of Israel’s rightwing racists who have chosen to ignore and defy their obligations under International Law regarding the siege on Gaza imposed by their fellow rightwing predecessor Ehud Olmert, whom the world mistakenly thought of as a “moderate”.

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