Historically, Israel and South Africa have been pretty close buddies, with close ties revealed between the former regime and Israel. Although one would expect the new regime to show solidarity with the Palestinians, their support to date has been pretty muted.
Recently however, the Israeli state has started flinging accusations of racism at the African National Congress government.
This follows a decision by the South African Minister for Trade and Industry that goods from the West Bank should not be labeled as ‘Made in Israel’.
“The government of South Africa recognises the state of Israel only within its 1948 borders – that area does not include territories captured by Israel in 1967.”
The inevitable tantrum from Israel followed, with Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor accusing South Africa of racism by “singling out Israel and ignoring dozens of other areas of conflict”.
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor accused South Africa of racism by singling out Israel and ignoring dozens of other areas of conflict.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem Post published an op-ed which confirmed that Yes, all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!, arguing that:
All criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic because of the specific historical circumstances under which we currently live. That is to say, the historical circumstances under which Israel and the Jews exist in the world today render any non-anti-Semitic criticism of Israel impossible. And, ironically, these are circumstances that Israel’s opponents have themselves created.
So, there we have it, its our fault, and we must focus on the suffering of the oppressor whilst the oppressed are conveniently swept under the carpet.
The op-ed ends with a call that might well have been issued by Tony Greenstein and the PSC:
…however, there is at least a possible solution to the problem, should critics of Israel be willing to entertain it. It is a modest imperative: Work toward less anti-Semitism
Sadly for Israel, it is a different inevitable accusation of racism that is currently occupying the minds of South Africans.
Its all to do with a painting by artist Brent Murray, entitled the Spear of the Nation, which depicts President Zuma with his bits dangling.
Or I should say depicted, as this morning the painting was defaced, after the gallery refused to take it down, and in advance of the scheduled court hearing , when Zuma will argue that the painting should be removed because it violates his right to dignity and makes a mockery of his office. He said the portrait depicted him as a “a philanderer, a womaniser and one with no respect”.
In his court affadavit, Murray said that he never intended the artwork to cause any hurt or to harm the dignity of any person, and noted that during the apartheid years he had created satirical images which attacked abuses of power.
“For many years I have used, and continue to use, symbols with sexual connotations representative of political power and patriarchy,”
The debate focuses around the issue of freedom of expression, and whether Zuma has a right to expect respect or needs to earn it. One commentator notes that there are cultural reasons why the picture is so offensive, claiming rather dramatically that:
“The Spear” was not a spear in the heart and ego of Zuma, “The Spear” is the final spear in the future of whites in South Africa.
Oliver Tambo’s daughter Tselane has come out in support of of the painting:
So the Prez JZ has had his portrait painted and he doesn’t like it. Do the poor enjoy poverty? Do the unemployed enjoy hopelessness? Do those who can’t get housing enjoy homelessness? He must get over it. No one is having a good time. He should inspire the reverence he craves. This portrait is what he inspired. Shame neh!,
In the JP op-ed the author wrote:
A large portion of the world, West and East, has come to believe that Arabs and Muslims have earned the right to murder Jews.
Derived from this right, they have also come to believe that the destruction dismantling, and erasure of the State of Israel, and the slaughter, expulsion, and/or perpetual subjugation of its Jewish population are entirely legitimate and indeed desirable.
The claims that the end of a racist, oppressive state apparatus would lead to the killing of driving out of the Jewish population are reminiscent of the claims that white South Africans used to justify the continuation of the Apartheid regime. Yet for the majority of those who remained, life carries on much the same as it did then.
What is clear is that even Israel’s friends will not be able to turn a blind eye forever, and that the Palestinians will continue to demand justice.
Almost two decades after the African National Congress assumed power, there is still a racial tension that pops up from time to time and is never far from the surface.
Rather than insist that the world ignore the Palestinians and focus on virtually non-existent anti-semitism, it really is time for Israelis to start addressing that injustice and seeking reconciliation.