On Thursday afternoon South African Jewry assumed the “Brace position.” Israel had denied Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, a visa to visit “Palestine.” The crash was inevitable and I for one put my head in my hands and waited for the impact.
As predicted, most South African news agencies led with the story. As predicted, Nzimande called the refusal “an attack on the South African Government” and as predicted the refusal has shown signs of cementing his obsessive focus on Israel and his ‘boycott protocol” that he has extolled for as long as we can remember.
What was not predicted was the response from government weary and disillusioned South Africans. I opened the comments on each article and waited for the deluge of hatred to wash over me. I hesitantly read comment by comment and to my shock could not find one that expressed sympathy for the honoured (or not so) Minister. Not one. Instead the support for Israel’s decision was overwhelming and positive, and although it says less about Israel and more about the state of this sorry nation, it was nonetheless amazing to see.
Some were downright nasty, calling him not only on his lack of service delivery in his Government post but also on his appearance, which they claimed would simply frighten Palestinian children. They stopped short of calling his frightening demeanor a “weapon of mass destruction”, but they might as well have. But most were rational enough to ponder what “expertise “ he could possibly impart to the poor Palestinians and wondered out loud what they could have done to deserve this unwarranted attention. Haven’t they suffered enough? Others looked homeward and pointed out the state of South Africa’s higher education system and not so politely suggested that perhaps, maybe, all things being considered, he should darn well get his own house in order.
South Africans were also quick to contemplate how the same South African government that had repeatedly denied the Dalai Lama a visa without the courtesy of an explanation, could be so outraged when an openly hostile member of their government wanted to visit a country he seeks to damage.
What was also clear to me is that an alternative narrative is somehow, slowly, starting to seep through to South African conciousness. More and more readers are starting to understand that the one dimensional view portrayed by some of the media might not be telling the whole story and that given the behavior of Hamas and their cohorts during Operation Protective Edge, that there is, or at least might be, just a smidgen more to this tale.
By Saturday the papers had all but dropped the story. I scanned paper after paper news site after news Site and there was little to be seen. It seems that as much as he tried, plainly put, no one in South Africa seems to care.
Of course Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (in a not so surprising not so diplomatic move) did little to help Jewish South Africans with his Facebook tirade against the South African government. And although one can sympathise and even agree with some of his rants, I am not certain that it behooves his position to “let it all hang out” as he tends to do from time to time.
It is clear is that Nzimande will continue to hate and that no visit to Palestine or Israel would have altered that. That he will now take on his boycott campaign with renewed vigour seems also to be a given. But what will be most interesting of all, is if his rabid Israel hatred will ultimately be his undoing, or if he will be able to get that under control and focus on being the Minister of Higher Education of South Africa as appointed by his people.
The impact didn’t happen. This time at least, Jewish South Africans are able to sit back in their seats and continue on their journey. A collective sigh is heard through our cabin. But although relieved, and although immediate danger averted, no one seems able to yet put away their prayer books and to take out a magazine.