South African ties to Israel under strain

Has the internal rumpus within the ruling ANC had an impact on South Africa’s foreign policy? Or is it that an Israel gone mad has led SA to re-assess its ties with the former apartheid sanction-busting state?

In the wake of the Gaza massacres, the new deputy foreign affairs Minister Fatima Hujjaij has suddenly given rise to this debate. Journalists who have been close to her predecessor, Aziz Pahad are reporting that there is a dramatic change between her approach and that of Pahad.

In their excitement though, one detects a sense of despair. One of them, JJ Cornish has complained that Hujjaij has adopted a more strident approach, especially on Palestine. Pahad, he said, was more “balanced” and “pragmatic”, suggesting that his replacement is hard-line.

This because Hujjaij did what any foreign ministry official in her position is expected to do: She summoned the Israeli ambassador to the Union Buildings and gave him a proper dressing down. She conveyed SA’s disdain and displeasure over Israel’s military conduct in Gaza. But she didn’t stop there. Given her knowledge and understanding of the Palestinian struggle as a stalwart of the anti-apartheid freedom struggle herself, Hujjaij threatened alternate action if Israel continues its aggression.

It is this threat of sanctions that has had tongues wagging on different radio talk-show programmes. Pro-Israeli callers displayed their anger and frustration by accusing her and the SA government of having “double standards” –” meaning that Zimbabwe should take priority over Palestine.

How could SA patronize Robert Mugabe while attacking Israel? Why should SA meddle in the internal affairs of the Jewish State?

In their usual defensive positions, many of the pro-Israeli gang seek to justify the current massacre on the grounds that Hamas is a “terrorist” organization and as such should have no right to exist. Their views are no different to those espoused by the Bush administration, Israel and a host of unelected American-backed Arab dictators. Hence, it’s not surprising to hear them voice uncritical support for the illegitimate and discredited “war on terror”.

After all, Israel –” the godfather of terrorism –” has a special interest in snuffing out authentic leaders who refuse to kneel before its power, like some who in this current genocide have shamelessly done.

Post-Polokwane South Africa has undergone dramatic change. The recall of President Thabo Mbeki and his replacement with Kgalema Mothlanthe was a forerunner to a series of new developments, including the fall-out from the ruling ANC. “Terror” Lekota, former Minister of Defence, whose tenure as Chairman of the ANC ended in ignominious defeat at Polokwane broke away with the Premier of Gauteng, Sam Shilowa, to form a new political party.

Now firmly established as COPE, it hopes to contest the up-coming national elections in April and emerge as the official opposition. Lekota’s move has been described by the ANC as symbolic of disgruntlement. Indeed, the highly organized labour movement, COSATU, has attacked COPE as potentially poised to undermine worker’s rights and called on its constituency to remain faithful to the ANC.

COSATU in fact has led the demand that SA severs ties with Israel. Its fresh demands in the wake of the horror visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied Territory of Gaza and given the political climate of “surprises” may influence its alliance partner, the ruling ANC to “freeze” relations with Israel, or alternatively, under the microscope.

The sentiments expressed by Hujjaij reflect the deep-seated frustration that many countries experience vis-à-vis Israeli intransigence. It flouts International Conventions and dares the world! It does so with arrogance and knows that whatever crimes it commits, American backing is guaranteed. Professor John Dugard’s reports in his capacity as Special Rapporteur for the UN’s Human Rights Council have been defied.

SA has to realize that the Palestinian Territory {Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem} has been occupied for forty years. And as Dugard points out, there is a tendency in certain quarters to overlook this reality and to treat the OPT as an “unoccupied” entity. In fact the spin doctoring by Israel in the current onslaught in Gaza seeks to create the false perception –” that Dugard warns against –” of Israel and Palestine as two states poised against each other, with Israel as the victim and Palestine as a neighbouring aggressive terrorist state.

This is the challenge facing South Africa under Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the ANC. Will it respond to its moral and legal obligations and recognize that pursuing diplomatic and economic relations with Israel nullifies its stated objective of supporting Palestinian rights?

Indeed, not only does it nullify any prospect for leverage in either protecting or advancing such rights that have been savagely assaulted over 60 years; it completely neutralizes South Africa’s potential to seek any meaningful redress tilted towards the victims.

Fatima Hujjaij ought to know that Israel has subverted the latest Security Council attempt by Libya. That it’s able to hold the international community to ransom with the blanket protection of the US is an indication of the tough battle Palestinians face in appealing for and receiving assistance. Now that the second phase has been launched with a massive ground offensive, will Hujjaij fulfill her promise to take the next step?