Last Thursday, Christian and Jewish South Africans marched together in a show of solidarity against the SA Department of Trade and Industry’s proposal to start re-labelling Israeli goods as “made in the Occupied Territories”. Close on 1 700 enthusiastic marchers participated in this “Africans for Israel” march, telling the DTI where they could effectively stick their labels!

The crowds gather

Initiated by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) in association with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Shembe Church, Impact for Christ Ministries and the South African Zionist Federation, the march brought together Jews, Christians from the Shembe tribe, members of the IFP, led by  Zulu Prince, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Israel’s often lone supporter in parliament, the ACDP’s Reverend Kenneth Meshoe. And in addition to theSouth Africans, a contingent of Congolese, Zimbabweans and Nigerians also participated.

The show of support was overwhelming, proving that at a time when Israel feels more and more isolated, we have friends in high places. Not every country can count a Zulu prince amongst their most vocal supporters! Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Dov Segev-Steinberg, thanked everyone present, saying, “This is the first time in my tenure here that I have experienced such vocal public support of our friends in this country – it warms our hearts to see this. It shows the general public that Israel still has many friends here.”

Read this sign!

Submissions of objection were handed over to government representatives and now we wait for their response…..anyone holding their breath?

So what led to thousands of people taking to the street in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, in support of the State of Israel?

South Africa seems to be waging a cold war against Israel. Over the past few years, the relationship between the two countries has started to cool. South Africa was the only country apart from Turkey to recall its ambassador after the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. It baffled many – why this incident and not others that involved a higher degree of conflict? There have been a slew of other issues that have included the Russell Tribunal, comments from BDS luminaries such as Archbishop Tutu and general finger pointing. Member of the ANC’s International Relations Commission (and special adviser to President Jacob Zuma) Lindiwe Zulu, let the cat out of the bag when she reported at a media briefing that: “The ANC would continue to support Palestine and has called for an increased boycott on Israeli products”.Other members have openly stated that in order to court the Muslim vote, the ANC government will be taking a hardline approach on the Jewish state.

Two months ago the South African Department of Trade and Industry fired their opening salvo when they declared that they would enact legislation that would require “MADE IN ISRAEL” to be replaced with “Product of illegal settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” on a large variety of “settlement” products imported into SA. Minister Davies also stated that South Africa recognizes Israel inside the 1948 borders. Wow, thank you Minister Davies – you managed to accomplish which years of countless negotiations could not – defined borders! It has since been explained to the wannabe cartographers in government that the 1967 armistice borders are more often than not used as the point of departure for negotiations.

Africans for Israel

The question many are asking is should we care that a country like South Africa, which has long since lost any kind of credibility needed to play a vital role in any kind of Middle East peace is advocating boycotts. The answer is yes. South Africa is still seen as the benchmark on how to deal with issues that are perceived as racist. The question is why people aren’t calling the singling out of Israel as racist and are instead listening to those who have little understanding of the socio-political climate of the region. Denmark swiftly followed suit although not to the same extent. Sadly, South Africa has become a dubious trend setter which is worrying given the massive bilateral trade agreements just signed between the country and Saudi Arabia. Economic ties between South Africa and Iran are also raising eyebrows in the international arena. I wonder if goods imported from these violators of human rights will be labeled.  After all, the consumer has a right to know doesn’t he/she Minister Davies?

I would like to pose the following question to Davies and advocates of BDS in South Africa, have you considered the thousand of Palestinians whose employment will be affected by this? Do you know that in excess of 15 000 Palestinians stand a chance of being unemployed because of campaigns like this? The only solution is discourse between the two parties. Palestinians and Israelis need to interact and engage with each other in order to build mutual trust. Exclusionary tactics are counter-productive.

One thing is for sure, not all South Africans agree to support this re-labelling campaign – this was made abundantly clear last Thursday when African for Israel defiantly declared…LABEL THIS!

Pictures courtesy of Ivy Hesp and Gill Katz.

 The writer is a member of the Media Team Israel an advocacy body under the auspices of the SAZF that fights bias in the media and has appeared on radio, television and published several op-ed pieces.

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