SOUTH AFRICA has a long and celebrated history of non-alignment when it comes to the numerous wars between the great powers.
During the cold war, the ANC received funding from members of the Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact, but the party developed its own policies in regard to the apartheid regime.
Remarkable here are the historic ties with non-aligned Nordic countries, who also funded and supported the campaign against apartheid, so too, the significant role played by the African unity movement (and African Union) in developing a cohesive platform of independence and non-alignment.
Lately there are disturbing signs that our country is once again being drawn into a partisan global conflict, effectively taking sides in the Middle East War and the war in Syria. It would be foolhardy to ignore the recent hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal by the ruling party and what appears to be pro-Assad, pro-Iran policies slowly developing in relation to Syria, and of consequence, the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Early this year, South Africans were stunned to hear that a family of Syrian refugees in Cape Town have been told by a Home Affairs official that their asylum application was “unfounded”. The department declared their home country “stable” and rejected claims they feared for their lives if they returned to the war-torn country.
“Humanitarian aid was, therefore, not warranted,” the department’s finding is reported to have said. This is in line with the fiction created by Russia and other nations, that the diminished Assad regime is the only legitimate role player, and since it is officially not at war, and the conflict is ironically merely a “civil war” at best, the 450 000 people who have died in the region never existed.
Nelson Mandela shortly after his release and whilst on the Ted Koppel Show explained his principled position on the Middle East, in particular the Israel and Palestine conflict:
“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. “
“We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.”
“We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”
While Mandela’s position may no longer be considered relevant to the ruling party, any political pundit worth his or her salt would be abrogating responsibility in failing to consider the following facts, which present significant obstacles so far as the BDS version of history is concerned:
Firstly, the Assad regime has been at war with Israel since October 1973, when it attacked the country on the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur. Any support for the regime may thus have unintended consequences, that of deteriorating further into a religious war.
Secondly, the flag of Assad’s Ba’ath Party is the exact same Pan-Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies. BDS supporters may thus justifiably be accused of supporting the deaths of civilians in Syria in the name of Empire.
The influx of Arabs into Israel from Arab States, following the 1948 war, is well documented. Many of these Arabs were also Jews and Christians. Thus the problem in the region is not between black or white, but between right and wrong.
The position of Mandela continues to enjoy resounding support amongst South African Jews, the position of BDS on the other hand, in its evolving campaign, most recently articulated by the Media Review Network and others — namely that Israel has no right to exist, and consequently should be replaced by an Islamic State — has absolutely no support within this community, and where it does, such support should not be misconstrued as support on behalf of any one of the major religions.
Ideologically, those Jews, such as myself, who happen to be non-Zionist (and thus also non-Theist per se), have provided solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the years.
There was a time when such solidarity provided by the left was one of unconditional support. After so much death and destruction in the region, doing so without conditions is nothing but irresponsible madness. One has merely to point to the problem of 13 million Syrian-Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now in refugee camps in Jordan. That South Africa has a role to play in a negotiated peace, is clear. Our country also has a humanitarian role in assisting these Palestinians in relocating to our fine country.
I therefore wish to affirm here, that we are all hostages of the crisis, and thus hostages of the war, irrespective of our religious affiliation or otherwise, and that a secular solution — a negotiated settlement between the parties — is one that involves all parties, and thus both points of view. Such a solution, necessitates that we avoid taking sides as a nation, in what appears to be nothing more than a sectarian conflict, a partisan religious conflict as is the one over the Jerusalem-West Bank, which mirrors the neighbouring wars involving religion cascading around the Middle East.