Row over students’ Israel visit
Cape Town - The ANC is set to investigate a group of students who allegedly represented it on a paid trip to Israel.
It’s an attempt to embarrass us, one of the party’s top officials said on Saturday.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article, complete with a photograph, about the trip on its website on Friday. The article was headlined: “South African community in Ra’anana meets young ANC leaders”.
Haaretz reported the tour had been organised by the South Africa Israel Forum (SAIF) for an 18-member delegation travelling to Israel with an “open mind”.
It reported that the forum’s director, Dan Brotman, said “some of the participants, who will be future leaders in South Africa, were under enormous pressure not to come or received threats over being kicked out of their political parties”.
“Some of the participants, who told Haaretz they are in Israel in their personal capacity, said they supported the ‘boycott Israel’ movement because they were getting one-sided information,” reported Haaretz.
Brotman, originally from the US, told Haaretz: “The goal is not to make them pro-Israel, but to expose them to a narrative they really don’t hear in South Africa.”
The ANC’s Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office, on Saturday dismissed the trip as a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine”.
Bapela said the ANC would investigate the matter.
“I’m the head of the ANC’s international relations committee and I must know about all trips the ANC undertakes,” said Bapela.
“The ANC did not send anybody to Israel. The ANC was also not represented by anyone. We will investigate this. We will summon the students.
“Israel wants to recruit young people. They are offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC.
“We have a clear position that supports Palestinian freedom. No leader of the ANC in a private capacity or for the party will visit Israel. It will be putting the ANC in disrepute.”
Ntuthuko Makhombothi, president of the South African Students Congress (Sasco), said on Saturday the delegation had included students from the Wits and Joburg universities in Gauteng.
“The students have been offered a holiday trip to Israel. I don’t have the exact names to give you now. They could not afford this,” said Makhombothi.
“They are offered other things that we don’t know.
“We believe our members participated in a propaganda trip in Israel. This trip is an attempt to paint a glossy picture.
“It is known that we are one of the organisations that has called for a boycott against Israel, and for divestment.
“We will take a decision on what to do with those members who have taken a position outside the policy of our organisation. This is just an attempt to derail us in our solidarity with Palestinians.”
Bapela said they wanted to hear from the students what had happened on the trip. “We don’t know if it’s Sasco who said they are representing the ANC or if Israel is saying this because they know Sasco is part of the ANC,” said Bapela.
Weekend Argus obtained a SAIF “Young Leaders Israel Tour” itinerary that outlined the trip’s objectives. It includes a “walk through military bunkers”.
Zak Mbhele, a DA parliamentarian, went on a similar SAIF trip recently. The former spokesman for Western Cape premier Helen Zille on Saturday said it was “not a propaganda trip”.
“It was a study tour. It was about exposing the delegates to the reality on the ground. We met with different civil society activists in Israel, including a Jewish activist who supported the boycott against Israel,” said Mbhele.
“There was never a sense of pro-Israel propaganda. If you are going to have a strong opinion on Israel, at least you should go there.”
Mbhele said he was “surprised by how diverse Israel is, in terms of race and culture”.
“My opinion didn’t change much. There is a sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but at the same time I start getting very agitated when arguments start talking about Israel being illegitimate,” said Mbhele.
Israel denied the ANC’s Blade Nzimande entry into Palestinian territories in April.
The higher education minister subsequently called for an academic boycott against Israel.
Just a few days ago, Nelson Mandela’s Treason Trial co-accused Denis Goldberg issued a statement slamming “Israeli propaganda holiday trips”.
Weekend Argus on Saturday contacted the South African Zionist Federation and also the Jewish Voice for Just Peace but could not get comment.