Welcome to the forthcoming S. African parliamentary visitors

As a South African living in Israel, with strong emotional ties to my former home, I’m very pleased to learn of your planned visit to Israel. I welcome you and hope you will enjoy a pleasant and informative visit during which you will hopefully meet a wide range of Israeli civil society groups such as Telfed (South African Zionist Federation in Israel), The Israel-South Africa Chamber of Commerce and an international organization that promotes positive relationships between Palestinians, Israelis and Arabs known as Search for Common Ground.

You will be able to gain an overview of the Israeli political scene by visiting NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs and at the Wolfson Medical Center you will observe the internationally renowned  ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ project, which is saving the lives of children from all over the world, from black children in Haiti to Palestinian children closer to home.

You will be able to gain an overview of the Israeli political scene by visiting NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Center For Public Affairs and at the Wolfson Medical Center you will observe the internationally renowned ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ project, which is saving the lives of children from all over the world, from black children in Haiti to Palestinian children closer to home.

The Galilee College has trained more than 400 Black South Africans including college presidents and administrators. In 2011, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, MASHAV brought over 260 Palestinian participants to various training activities in Israel and more than 1,000 participants from 33 African countries took part in MASHAV programs.

What could be of particular interest to South Africa are the blindness prevention and eye-care missions conducted by Israeli ophthalmologists around the world. Hundreds of surgical procedures are performed by Israeli teams which work together with and train the local staff, restoring sight to many disadvantaged people using ophthalmological equipment and supplies donated by the Government of Israel.

Photo by courtesy of MASHAV

Since its establishment MASHAV has trained close to 270,000 course participants from approximately 132 countries in Israel and abroad and has developed dozens of projects worldwide.

The types of knowledge imparted in the various courses include, for example, plant nutrition, design of irrigation networks, water conservation and drainage systems and reclamation of degraded soils.

Photo by courtesy of Mashav
Click here for more about Mashav

Some Personal Background

Having lived in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid, I am proud of the new South Africa and I salute its real achievements. To my regret however, it is disturbing to learn of the current anti-Israel agitation in South Africa based on false information and I trust you will not mind my offering a different perspective. I welcome your initiative in coming to see for yourselves the degree to which the biased perception created by propaganda and misinformation differs from the real Israel and that is possible to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive

A word or two about my background will explain my ready understanding of the pro-Palestinian anti-Israel views of many South Africans albeit they are based on misinformation.

My good friend Arthur Goldreich (who was arrested at Rivonia with Nelson Mandela and who passed away not long ago in Israel) often discussed with me the marvel of the peaceful reconciliation in South Africa.

Following my service in World War II, I became active in the radical ex-serviceman’s Springbok Legion, which, with its nearly 60,000 members, including a large number of Jews, was probably the first mass movement of Whites promoting the liberation of Blacks. I now live in the South African promoted retirement home, ‘Beth Protea’, which I hope you will find time to visit during your stay. If you do, you will meet our manager Lyn Lochoff, who remembers clearly, the trauma she suffered as a child when the dreaded security police interrogated her father, Issy Isacowitz who was “named” for his anti-apartheid activities. Her uncle, the late Jock Isacowitz, one of the founders of the Springbok Legion, was jailed by the security police and died prematurely as a result of the maltreatment.

While studying at Wits I joined the left-wing subsequently banned Federation of Progressive Students (FOPS) founded by Ruth First, later to become the wife of the late Joe Slovo. I participated in student demonstrations, which were often broken up violently by the security police as well as Black Shirts, and I taught reading, writing and arithmetic to underprivileged Black adults.

Recent articles in South African media accuse Israel of apartheid but an intellectually honest visitor who is able to suppress preconceived ideas will soon observe that this is not true. Yes, as with most countries, Israel is not perfect, but apartheid is not among Israel’s faults. The apartheid canard is nothing but an illegitimate propaganda tool, as you will find for example in a visit to any Israeli hospital, where Israeli and Arab doctors and nurses work in harmony treating equally Jewish, Arab and Christian patients including Palestinians.

Former South African Benjamin Pogrund and Palestinian Bassam Eid know more than most of us about both apartheid and the situation in the West Bank.

As deputy editor of The Rand Daily Mail, a newspaper known for its courageous opposition to the apartheid government, Pogrund was familiar with all the ramifications of apartheid.

Bassem Eid is founder and director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (www.phrmg.org), a non-partisan organization dedicated to exposing human rights violations and supporting a democratic and pluralistic Palestine.

Considering their credentials, their views deserve serious consideration by every person seeking to form balanced opinions about the Arab-Israel conflict. I strongly recommend their article “Apartheid link is born of ignorance” 

Allegations about Israel and the apartheid regime
The claim that Israel was the main supporter of the old regime in South Africa is due to ignorance and laziness on the part of many journalists and in some cases deliberate bias.

No mention is ever made of the cooperation between Israel and the anti-apartheid movement. For example if you visit Mashav as suggested above you will be pleasantly surprised to learn about the extensive program carried out covertly by Israel at teaching facilities in Israel during the darkest days of apartheid, training Black South Africans for future leadership in a variety of fields. And I wonder whether you have heard of the “He-atid” training sessions in Israel for Black middle managers. Click here for an article “Coming in from the cold by David Kaplan

The facts are that in 1986, while apartheid was suffering worldwide opprobrium, South Africa’s main trading partners were USA – $3.4 billion, Japan – $2.9 billion, Germany-  $2.8 billion, U.K. – $2.6 billion. By comparison, Israel’s puny $0.2 billion total trade with South Africa amounted to less than 1% of South Africa’s total trade.

The main suppliers of weaponry to South Africa were France, Britain, Canada, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Taiwan and the United States.

The apartheid regime could have been brought to its knees much earlier, had its oil supply been cut off. All of its $2 billion annual oil import came from Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia. A  $1 billion barter deal was concluded with Iran, exchanging weapons from South Africa’s own armaments producers in exchange for oil. A similar deal for $750 million was concluded with Iraq. Is it not strange that none of these countries are judged by the same yardstick as applied to Israel?
Click here for more detailed information  

The ANC, the PLO and Hamas
While the ANC’s empathy with the Palestinians is an understandable result of having been comrades in arms, the commonality ends there. Indeed the Palestinian people deserve a better life but they have been unfortunate in lacking leadership of the caliber of Nelson Mandela. Who can doubt that, had Yasser Arafat possessed Mandela’s qualities, he and Ehud Barak would have achieved a durable peace agreement based on President Clinton`s proposals as far back as 2001?

Unfortunately, the policies of the PLO and Hamas are worlds apart from those of the ANC. The lofty aims of the ANC’s Freedom Charter bears no similarity whatsoever, to the hate-filled PLO and Hamas covenants. The ANC Charter states:

South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation – not war

 By sharp contrast, the Hamas charter makes it clear that there is no room for peaceful negotiation. Article 13 unambiguously states:

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.

That this attitude remains a guiding principle of Hamas was confirmed by Hamas chief, Khaled Mashal a few days after the UN resolution granting Palestine the status of a non-member state. With Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniya at his side, he publicly rejected the fundamental clause 4 of the resolution when he told a cheering crowd  that there is no legitimacy for Israel:

We are not giving up any inch of Palestine. It will remain Islamic and Arab for us and nobody else.  Jihad and armed resistance is the only way.

Mashal and Haniya claim that they, not President Abbas, represent all the Palestinian people. In fact President Abbas has been unable to visit Gaza for more than five years. Credible indications that Hamas will likely be ruling the West bank in the near future compound the difficulties.

Hamas philosophy is a far cry from the sober tone of the ANC Charter as illustrated by obsessive phobia about Freemasons, Rotary clubs, Lions and similar organizations, promising that the day Islam is in control, these organizations, will be “banned”, a familiar concept to those who experienced apartheid.

I’m sure you agree that this type of irrational hate had no place, and still has no place, in South African thinking. Nor would South Africa tolerate the type of incitement to violence which has been emanating for years from the mosques and PA controlled media and taught in schools from the earliest age.

May I hope that with your background of bloodless resolution of the hated apartheid regime, South Africa will play a pivotal unbiased role in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace instead of the present unbalanced anti-Israel trend 

Recommended reading

With respect I suggest the following texts as a guide to the Arab-Israel conflict

  1. Prominent Arab intellectuals view the refugee problem http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/2141.htm http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id143.html
  2. International law and the settlements http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id351.html
  3. Resolution 242 http://www.2nd-thoughts.org/id127.html
About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at www.maurice-ostroff.org