President Jacob Zuma’s Blindspot on International Terrorism

This past Sunday, 22 November 2015, the President of the Republic of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, read out a prepared text to the conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. One never knows how much weight to attach to President Zuma’s speeches or whether to regard the content of his speeches as reflecting his personal opinions. Nevertheless, his speech is a statement of policy of the African National Congress (‘ANC’), South Africa’s ruling party. For this reason alone, it deserves our attention and we ignore it at our peril.

His speech is noteworthy for two reasons: First, he ignored the stabbings, vehicular attacks and shootings currently being committed against Israelis by Palestinians. Second, he linked global terrorism to the absence of Middle East peace. Regarding the latter he stated, ‘The organised attacks in Paris have brought sharp focus onto the problem of global terrorism. Our continent has also been hit hard with on-going attacks in Nigeria, sporadic attacks in Kenya and this weekend with attacks in Mali and the Cameroon. All these attacks, wherever they occur, put the spotlight on the Middle East peace process. It is difficult to imagine peace in the world without the achievement of peace in the Middle East.’

Jews in this country, as articulated by our representatives and Arthur Lenk, the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, have expressed their disagreement with the linkage. If President Zuma’s statement means that the absence of peace between the State of Israel and the representatives of the Palestinians (PLO and Hamas) and the Arab world is the cause, contributory cause or even partly explains international terrorism, then we must denounce his statement. The linkage theory rests on the myth that if the Middle East conflict is solved, then there would be lesser reason or motivation for terrorist attacks in Paris, Toulouse, Nigeria, London, Madrid, New York, Washington D.C. etc. President Zumasuggests that the non-existence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians forms part of the explanation for terrorism and instability in places where the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is essentially irrelevant

Radical jihadism and Islamic tribalism are the prime motivators of conflict and terrorism in the Arab world and the world more generally. Most readers of the Times of Israel do not need to be told that even if the Israelis signed a peace agreement tomorrow with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, these prime motivators would remain. The sectarian warfare in Syria would still continue, Iraqis would still endure terrorism, and Al Queda, ISIS, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram would continue to plot attacks on the west and Africa. This seems so obvious to the studious observer that it baffles the mind how the head of state of Africa’s most successful democracy can make a statement, which flies in the face of facts and logic.

However, we should not be so quick to completely dismiss the linkage theory. Indeed, there is a link between violence in Israel and the West Bank and international terrorism, but not for the reason that motivated President Zuma and his speechwriter. For years, one of the central locations, although not the exclusive location, of terrorism was Israel. The western world did not mind this too much as long as only Israelis were targeted and the conflict was contained. This appears to continue to today. However, the west did not realise that whilst Israelis were being blown up (and today are being stabbed, shot and rammed in vehicular attacks) people across the Middle East drew (and continue to draw) inspiration from Palestinian style terrorism as propagated and supported by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PLO. The victims of this inspiration have been Iraqis, Syrians, Libyans and yes, Israelis, but at a far lesser number.

Those who drew inspiration from Hamas and Islamic Jihad-style violence have now applied the principles of battle informing the Palestinian war against Israel to the west, the Middle East and Africa. For those of ISIS ilk, like Al-Shabab, Boko-Haram and Al Queda, Israel is not viewed as the only illegitimate entity. They view any state that is not part of a global caliphate as being the equivalent of a West Bank settlement. This includes South Africa. Moreover, any person who is not Islamic according to their definition, or is a resident of these states is the equivalent of an Israeli. All the jihadi world has done is to apply the treatment meted out to Israel and Israelis to the rest of the world. Ironically, Islamic people have endured the most casualties from terrorism.

Even if western governments did not care about Israel and its citizens, they should have realised that they too would become victims if terrorism in Israel and the West Bank did not cease. To their detriment, western governments continue to condone terrorism against Israelis and foreign citizens in Israel. Even the State Department condemns such terrorism and then calls for calm from both sides. One did not hear the State Department condemn the terrorist attacks in France and then urge calm between ISIS and the French. Even when US citizen Ezra Schwartz was killed on Thursday 19 November 2015 by a Palestinian terrorist, the State Department released such a statement. The implication is that there is a distinction to be made between those killed in Israel by terrorists, and those killed by terrorists anywhere else. In the latter case, there is only a condemnation. Of course, western governments should support Israel against terrorism and incitement not only because it is in their own national interest to do so, but because it is the moral thing to do.

Uncategorically, President Zuma and the ruling ANC are worse than the average western government. By giving red carpet treatment to Khaled Mashaal and his Hamas delegation, President Zuma and his ANC effectively told the South African Jewish community that the ANC condones violence committed by Hamas against civilians in Israel. Indeed, it is explicit Hamas policy to kill Israelis and other Jews in Israel, be they male or female, young or old, child or adult, solider or civilian, Israeli or foreign. The failure of President Zuma in his speech to the Conference of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies to condemn the on-going-stabbings, shootings and vehicular attacks, reinforces our view that the President and the ANC do not regard Israelis and Jewish foreign citizens in Israel as being worthy of concern and respect. Indeed, Hamas violence against Israel, and the absence of democratic norms in Gaza, were largely ignored during Mashaal’s visit. The ANC provided a platform for Khaled Mashaal and the rest of the Hamas delegation to incite ‘imminent violence’, which is in direct contravention of section 16(2)(b) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. In the prepared text of the speech published on the website of the Presidency, the word Hamas does not appear. President Zuma and the ANC have not learned the lesson that international jihadists draw their inspiration from one another, including Palestinian terrorist organisations. If President Zuma was a friend of Africa, the Jews, and all decent people who want to raise their children in a peaceful world, he would have denounced terrorism everywhere, including Israel.

About the Author
Paul Wayburne is an admitted advocate in Johannesburg and holds BA LLB LLM and PhD degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.