Setting the record straight about the SA Ambassador’s interview

With great respect to blogger Zeev Shandalov, I feel compelled to correct several erroneous conclusions in his August 4 article “For Us, Hamas is a National Liberation Movement”.

In the Jerusalem Post interview by Michael Freund to which the blog refers, Ambassador Sisa Ngombane’s replies were commendably frank and while some of his remarks may be debatable as should be expected, he said nothing that justifies the angry response.

It would have been beneficial had the author taken the trouble to find out a little more about the ambassador before rushing to criticize him on the basis of this single  interview.  For example Ambassador Ngombane has expressed serious interest in promoting technical exchanges with Israel. And to his credit he has done so even though this runs counter to the calls on South Africans by deputy minister Ebrahim to refrain from visiting Israel.

Some of the loaded questions asked by Mr. Freund limited the nature of the reply. For example the gist of the author’s objection as indicated by the headline is the ambassador’s statement “For Us, Hamas is a National Liberation Movement”. But this answer must be must be viewed in the context of the phrasing of the question which limited the reply to only two alternatives. He was asked whether he considers Hamas to be a national liberation movement or a terrorist organization and unsurprisingly the answer was factually that South Africa regards Hamas as a national liberation movement as do many other countries.

Ambassador Ngombane and his wife
Ambassador Ngombane and his wife Thathanyana

The fact is that only the USA, Canada, Israel, the EU and Japan classify Hamas as a terror organization and if one asks the same question of other  ambassadors  one would probably receive the same answer as the SA ambassador gave. But to his credit the South African ambassador added that terror cannot be part of the liberation movement’s strategy.

The claim that the ambassador said “violence is OK” is flatly contradicted by the ambassador’s statement

“I’m saying that Gaza under Hamas is a work in progress and I’ve said we condemn violence”.

There is absolutely no basis for the inference that the ambassador believes violence is okay to achieve the destruction of the State of Israel. He said nothing of the kind.

Although the article claims that none of the ambassador’s words were taken out of context, the ambassador’s reference to a “few rockets” cannot be understood except in the missing context of the interviewer’s question, which referred to only several incidents of rocket firing. I quote the exact wording of the question

In recent months, there have been several incidents in which Palestinian terrorists have fired rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. What is your policy toward the Hamas regime in Gaza and do you condemn the rocket attacks?

 As the interviewer did not consider it relevant to mention thousands of rockets there is absolutely no basis for Zeev Shandalov’s rhetorical question “Is he [the ambassador] aware that thousands of rockets have been launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza over the last many years?”

The ambassador’s emphasis on the avoidance of random violence by South Africa’s liberation movement is highly relevant to his objection  to the violent acts of Hamas. As Nelson Mandela declared in his memorable statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case in the April 1964 famous Rivonia Trial.

.. the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes..

.. This then was the plan. Umkhonto was to perform sabotage, and strict instructions were given to its members right from the start, that on no account were they to injure or kill people in planning or carrying out operations..

Unfortunately Hamas actions and its charter contrast sharply with the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation. Hamas makes it clear that there is no room for peaceful negotiation as advocated by the ANC.

Despite efforts by our detractors to distort the relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime, there are many positive aspects to that relationship like the programs in Israel during the apartheid era organized by the Histadrut and opposed by the apartheid government, to train Black South Africans in leadership, agriculture and organization. Moreover, there is an interesting connection between Israel’s War of Independence and Umkhonto, the military arm of the ANC.

In Nelson Mandela’s aforementioned statement from the dock he referred to the late Arthur Goldreich who had served in that war as a Machal volunteer. Mandela said of Goldreich

We discussed ideological and practical questions, the Congress Alliance, Umkhonto and its activities generally, and his experiences as a soldier in the Palmach, the military wing of the Haganah, the political authority of the Jewish National Movement in Palestine. Because of what I had got to know of Goldreich, I recommended on my return to South Africa that he should be recruited to Umkhonto.

In October, Arthur Goldreich informed me that he was moving out of town and offered me a hiding place there. A few days thereafter, he arranged for Michael Harmel to take me to Rivonia. I naturally found Rivonia an ideal place for the man who lived the life of an outlaw. Up to that time I had been compelled to live indoors during the daytime and could only venture out under cover of darkness. But at Liliesleaf [farm, Rivonia,] I could live differently and work far more efficiently.

During the Jerusalem Post interview Ambassador Ngombane said

Yes, our political relations are still struggling – they are not the closest of relations politically, one has to say. But of course relations can be worked on and improved, and we do our best to do this.

And I sincerely suggest that the ambassador deserves the support of all persons of goodwill in his sincere efforts to work on and improve the strained relations between Israel and South Africa.

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