Israeli soldiers aim their weapons during clashes with Palestinians in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Picture: Mussa Qawasma/Reuters
The South African Zionist Federation has criticised the decision by the South African government to downgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel. Rowan Polovin, in particular, a recipient of the World Zionist Organisation’s Herzl Award in 2016, frames his critique of the South African government’s position within the spectre of anti-semitism and electioneering by the ANC.

The ANC, Cosatu, the SACP, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union) and many civil society organisations have welcomed the implementation of the resolution of the ruling party of South Africa that directed the government to downgrade its relations with Israel based on ongoing human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and Israel’s transgressions of international law.

The statements by the ANC and Cosatu stressed that there is unanimity within the executive on the implementation of the resolution. The intent to isolate International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in this matter and levy accusations of anti-semitism at her debunks the idea that this decision was taken for the purposes of electioneering.

No politician or political party would seek the kind of negativity that will inevitably be directed at them from very powerful local and global forces, which are intent on maintaining the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Support for the struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation has huge political risks for politicians and activists and is not an issue that one seeks to readily engage in during an election period. Politicians who take a stand in solidarity with the Palestinians often become victims of powerful lobbies that seek to silence their voices and curtail their political careers.

Sisulu joins Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, US Congress member Ilhan Omar and many other leaders who have been singled out for taking principled positions. In the case of Sisulu, it is a position she has also been directed to take by her party and its leaders. The position was also informed by the opinions of diplomats and officials at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.

It is regrettable that those opposed to the decision to downgrade relations with Israel invoke a strategy that seeks to frame any and all criticisms and actions to support the Palestinians as anti-semitism. Allegations of anti-semitism are now a well-honed tool to silence criticism of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the more strident opponents of the continued occupation. Jews for a Free Palestine here in South Africa is a leading member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which has voiced its support for the implementation of the ANC’s resolution to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel. The South African government’s position is not directed at any specific religious group, race or ethnic group but is guided by a duty to promote universal human rights for all people without distinction of any kind.

South Africa’s positions on Palestine are guided by the fact that there is an occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Stating that Israel is an occupying power is not opinion, but fact confirmed by international law in the Wall Opinion by the International Court of Justice. In the case of Palestine, there has been seven decades of consistent human rights abuses.

A report produced by former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley found that, based on careful analysis of the International Covenants on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, the UN Charter and the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, the practices within Israel and the occupied territories fell foul of all of these international instruments, including transgressing the provisions of the Apartheid Convention. Despite the Falk and Tilley report being peer reviewed by international legal scholars, it was withdrawn after vicious attacks on the authors, including the inevitable accusation that they were anti-semitic.

The withdrawal of the report does not diminish the fact that it is academically sound and confirms similar studies by international human rights and international law scholars.

Falk and Tilley stressed that the same laws that prohibit the crimes of apartheid and all forms of discrimination were also instrumental in prohibiting anti-semitism across the globe.

In defending their report, Falk cited Yitzhak Rabin, a two-time prime minister of Israel, telling a journalist in 1976: “I don’t think it’s possible to contain over the long term, if we don’t want to get to apartheid, a million and a half (more) Arabs inside a Jewish state.”

Falk also cites Michael Ben-Yair, a former Israeli attorney-general, who said: “We established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories.”

South Africa’s position on the situation in Israel and Palestine is therefore guided by our experiences of apartheid and the duty to act in solidarity with peoples subjected to discrimination and violence. The government would never be in support of actions that would be anti-semitic.

The constitution and international law will guide foreign policy. We will promote human rights for all as our constitution mirrors the International Bill of Rights. Given global dynamics, it is clear that such an independent foreign policy stance predicated on human rights and a more equitable world order can be a very lonely space.

* Dangor is special advisor to Minister for International Relations and Co-operation Lindiwe Sisulu.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.