Photo: Jeffrey Abrahams
Durban - A Petition by the South African Friends of Israel for the restoration of the normal ties between South Africa and Israel is gaining traction with more than 23 727 - and counting - signatures recorded since last week.

The group called for the South African ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, to be reinstated.

Ben Swartz, the group’s co-chairperson, said the organisation comprised people from all sectors of South Africa. “There is massive underestimation of the amount of support Israel has in South Africa.”

South Africa lived in a constitutional democracy and was obligated to listen to its people, Swartz said.

He said the past few weeks had been challenging for those who were pro- and anti-Israelbecause of the recall of the South African ambassador to Israel last week. The move has strained the relations between the two countries.

“There are various interest groups including Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, the Arab League and organisations such as the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement) that have aggressively lobbied the South African government to sever ties with Israel, while practically none of them table any credible solution other than the call for the annihilation of the state of Israel,” the statement said.

The petition argued that the decision to withdraw Ngombane was deeply flawed, did not serve the interests of the South African population and went against South Africa’s foreign policy of consulting all parties in a conflict. “We believe South Africa has a moral obligation to support a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to distance itself from a radicalised position on Israel, which position simply undermines any hope of a negotiated process and peaceful outcome.”

Kwara Kekana, from BDS South Africa, said an overwhelming majority of Palestinians had called to isolate Israel by boycott divestments and sanctions and said they welcomed the downgrading of relations between the countries.

“Such efforts are historically tested to force regimes to respect human rights and Israel is no different,” Kekana said.

Shaun Zagnoec, national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, expressed support for the initiative. “In spite of much negativity expressed against Israel in many quarters, there are many South Africans across the colour and religious divide that support that country.”

Attempts to contact the Department of International Relations and Co-operation were unsuccessful at the time publication.

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