In an article penned by Nicola Miltz in the South African Jewish report, Zeph Krengel of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies crudely labels minister Lindiwe Sisulu as the “single biggest enemy” of South African Jews in South Africa.
While Krengel’s utterances border on being libelous, this response will seek to provide more in depth clarity for the reasons underpinning South Africa’s decision to downgrade its diplomatic relations with the government of Israel.
This is necessary as Krengel continues to foreground criticism of Israel’s actions as being anti-Semitic.
This view has been criticised by South African Jews for a Free Palestine and other South Africans who follow the Jewish faith.
In fact, in a statement by South African Jews for a Free Palestine they made the point that the views and opinions of South Africans of the Jewish faith are diverse and that the SAJBD represents a view-point that is not universal to the values and beliefs of all South African Jewish people.
Back to the issues that gave rise to the SAJBD’s Krengel’s vitriol directed at Sisulu.
Sisulu in her role as the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, and representing the Executive, proceeded to implement a resolution of the African National Congress (ANC) to downgrade South Africa’s diplomatic relations with the government of Israel.
The president of the ANC and of the country stated in parliament, in response to a question from the opposition benches that the downgrade of relations was being effected.
The resolution of the ANC was shaped by the government of Israel’s disrespect for international law, which has seen over 10000 Palestinians killed over the last 18 years alone.
The government of Israel is currently being investigated by the prosecutor of the ICC for war crimes as a result of its military operations in Gaza and other occupied Palestinian territories.
It is a settled fact that Israel’s military actions in Gaza cannot legally be regarded as self-defence.
There are several grounds under international law through which to dismiss Israel’s claim of acting in self-defence. The most salient being that Israel is an occupying force in the territory of Gaza where it is engaged in military action.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that Article 51 of the UN Charter contemplates an armed attack by one state against another state and ‘Israel does not claim that the attacks against it are imputable to a foreign state.’
Consequently, the cCourt concluded that Article 51 of the Charter cannot be invoked by the government of Israel.
The actions of the government of Israel have contravened the Laws of War in many instances including the deliberate targeting of non-combatants including women, children and members of the media.
A similar investigation in relation to the Crime of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity may find that these international crimes have been transgressed too, by the government of Israel.
There is no space for a detailed discussion on these matters in this article.
It is however, important to note that the Crime of Apartheid is an element in the Crime Against Humanity which the Israeli government’s Nation State Law is but one example of this law being transgressed.
These transgressions of the most serious international crimes have been perpetrated for decades and with impunity.
The promise of negotiations and talks have not stopped the immeasurable suffering of generations of Palestinian, including those families living in refugee camps for close to 70 years.
These are the issues and concerns that led to the ANC resolution to downgrade its diplomatic relations with the government of Israel.
This resolution which seeks to demonstrate practical solidarity with an oppressed people is the one that Krengel finds so offensive.
The resolution was operationalised as required by Minister Sisulu and therefore she becomes a target of a powerful lobby group.
Krengel apparently does not find gross violations of human rights as offensive. Nor does he as a South African seem to appreciate the abhorrence South Africans have for this kind of oppression, given our own history.
Sisulu has not solely focused on Israel. She and the department she leads has been as vocal on abuses of human rights and occupation in the Western Sahara, the human rights abuses of the Rohingya in Myanmar and instructed the DIRCO team in New York to make South Africa’s voice heard against transgressions of the laws of war in Yemen.
In fact, Sisulu has sought to embed a human rights approach to South Africa’s foreign policy.
The result has been that South Africa has supported or championed resolutions that highlight the intersectionality of discrimination of women, protect human rights defenders and support the ending of rape as a weapon of war.
A recent South African resolution in Geneva is perhaps the first to explicitly frame the right to bodily autonomy within the UN system.
Surely Mr Krengel, given our history this consistent stance against human rights abuses should be supported by all South Africans?
Surely, minister Sisulu should be lauded for as some have written, ‘recalibrating’ South Africa’s foreign policy stance to be constitutionally manifesting.
The labeling of Minister Sisulu as the enemy of South Africans of the Jewish faith is not only misleading and insulting, but deliberately seeks to undermine a rather impressive and consistent stance against human rights abuses in many parts of the world.