Johannesburg – Criticism is growing against Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane over his visit to Israel, with the Palestine solidarity and human rights organisation BDS South Africa joining the fray.
The organisation, which has previously called on masses to boycott what it termed as Apartheid Israel, condemned Maimane for meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Maimane left the country on January 7.
BDS said in 2009, a 300-page report by the government and the SA Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) found that Israel is practiced forms of apartheid. It said the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights lobby groups subsequently published similar reports, including investigations revealing Israel’s discriminatory policies regarding natural resources and in particular water.
"It is in this context that BDS SA and our supporters condemn the cosying up of the DA with the collaborators of our former oppressors. Israel backed and supported Apartheid South Africa with weapons including nuclear weaponry that was used against our people. It speaks volumes that the DA is trying to take us back to apartheid days by forging relations with countries like Israel and other regimes that backed apartheid," it said in a statement.
BDS went on to say Maimane and his party claim to want to listen to what Israelis and Palestinian are asking for yet they ignore what Palestinians and progressive Israelis say. It said this was not the first time the DA showed support for Israel adding in December the party was at the forefront of objecting calls against efforts to boycott the state.
The ANC on Thursday said the opposition party had betrayed efforts by Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo to build solidarity with Palestinians. It said the DA showed that it was a party that promoted racism and through this trip it had yet again let South Africans down.
Maimane's private visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories this week came just days after Zuma at the 105th anniversary of the birth of the ANC, reiterated the ruling party's support for the Palestinian demand for self determination and discouraged South Africans from travelling to Israel, unless their aim was to promote a peaceful settlement to the Middle East conflict.
The ANC said the DA leader's visit to Israel confirmed suspicion that the official opposition supported the policies of the Jewish state, and undermined its stated support for self-determination for the Palestinian people.
"At a time when the world is increasingly standing up against Israel’s illegal settlements, including the United Nations Security Council, it is a pity that the DA is endorsing the Israeli regime instead of condemning its violations of international law," ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.
"The allegations that the Democratic Alliance is funded and controlled by Apartheid Israel sympathisers seems to be true."
Kodwa accused the DA of being disingenuous when it said it shared the ANC's stance on Palestine, adding that the DA seemed condemned to remaining on the "wrong side of history".
"The ANC not only supports a just solution but we also have for for several years attended, actively supported and organised international solidarity campaigns with the people of Palestine. We, unlike the DA call out Israel for its racism against African refugees, we condemn Israel’s Apartheid policies and its violations of international law including building of illegal settlements and the inhumane Gaza siege."
Kodwa challenged the DA to denounce Israel publicly for inflicting "apartheid" on the Palestinian people, in order to prove that it indeed held the same views as the ANC.
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Western Cape said it was revolted by Maimane's meetings with Israeli leaders.
In a statement, the party said the DA was hell-bent on returning the country to the days of apartheid by promoting relations with countries that supported the apartheid of the National Party.
"The decision by the DA to visit Israel, and last month Taiwan, is a direct insult to progressive civil society. The DA is undermining the collective efforts of those that fought for the liberation of this country and the countless men and women who formed part of the international solidarity struggle," it said.
But DA spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme said Maimane had met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Bougie Herzog, and had been due to meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who cancelled due to a scheduling conflict.
She said Maimane's aim was "to listen and learn about the conflict first hand and to discuss how South Africa should be playing a more constructive role in bringing the parties together for peace".
As a deeply religious person, the visit also had spiritual meaning for Maimane, she said.
Maimane also met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah and Rawabi, and with Palestinian human rights activists, as well as representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian business communities to "discuss how business and trade can be used to advance peace when politics is failing to make progress".
Van Damme said this was in keeping with the DA's commitment to a two-state solution, as supported by the South African government and the United Nations.
The DA's official position on the Palestine-Israel question is that it supports a two-state solution and peaceful coexistence with Jerusalem as the shared capital. It has described visits to the region by party leaders as fact-finding missions.
"Under the DA's leadership, South Africa will play a constructive role in bringing the two parties together instead of inflaming tensions between them," Van Damme said.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa general secretary Irvin Jim said he had no doubt that Maimane would return with a 'wishy washy' view of how peace can be maintained rather than a decisive plan which will outline how the rights of Palestinians can be preserved.
It remains to be seen if government will rein in the Maimane and Msimanga who are accused of flouting the country's foreign policies.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation said it was consulting on the matter and would release a statement on Maimane's trip on Friday.
Presidential spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said the Presidency wouldn't comment beyond the statement it issued early this year.
In the statement, the President's office said all foreign policy matters would be addressed when the Presidential Coordinating Council meets.
Ngqulunga confirmed that council has not yet convened a meeting as it was too early in the year.