Israel-Hamas conflict has revealed fissures in South Africa

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The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas has revealed strong divisions in South Africa. The government’s unwavering support for the Palestinians has faced criticism, particularly from leaders of the Jewish community and others in the country.

The government said that its diplomats are leaving Israel and they think the job of Israel’s ambassador in Pretoria is becoming impossible.

The Jewish Board of Deputies in the country has strongly criticized this and wants to have a quick meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

People in South Africa have been supportive of the Palestinians’ struggle for their own country. This support started during the time of Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid.

In 1997, after becoming the first democratically elected president of the country following a long fight against white-minority rule, he said: “We understand very well that our freedom is not complete unless Palestinians also have their freedom. ”

The Hamas attack on Israel was very serious and killed about 1,400 people. Despite this, the ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), has not changed its stance. Even though two South African citizens were killed and another is being held hostage, the ANC’s position remains the same.

President Ramaphosa promised that the ANC stands with the Palestinians and sees similarities in their history to South Africa’s fight against apartheid.

Even though he criticized the Hamas attack, a week later he joined 60 other party leaders in waving Palestinian flags and wearing the black and white Palestinian scarf called keffiyeh.

“He said that the Palestinians have been living under someone else’s control for nearly 75 years. ” They have been waiting and fighting against a government that has been called an unfair state.

“We always promised to support each other, and we always believed that the best way to solve the problems, especially relating to Palestine, is by having two separate states. ”

South Africa’s foreign ministry is saying that the Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip could be considered as a genocide. The strikes have resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people according to the health ministry run by Hamas.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor accused Israel of punishing all Palestinian civilians, but Israel disagrees.

The government hasn’t said anything about the person from South Africa who was taken hostage, and they haven’t told us their name either.

The country’s Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation, and the Democratic Alliance (DA), the largest opposition party, have criticized its support for Palestine.

Some radio stations in South Africa are purposely reducing the time for taking calls from listeners who want to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas due to strong opinions on both sides.

Big marches supporting the rights of Palestinians have taken place in South Africa during the ongoing conflict.

There were smaller marches and rallies supporting Israel in Johannesburg and Cape Town. On the previous Friday, people from the Jewish community put up 221 large red balloons on Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg. They wanted to raise awareness about Israeli captives and ask for their freedom.

Gabriella Farber, a member of the ANC, quit the party because she believed it was endorsing Hamas.

She wrote a letter on X (formerly Twitter) saying that she understood she could not be a proud Jew and belong to the ANC, even if she tried.

“The ANC took nine days to criticize Hamas for the terrible acts they did to the Jewish people. ” She said that when the ANC criticized Hamas, they also said that Israel is committing a genocide.

Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of The Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa, has heavily criticized the government’s position.

“I want to say to the president and the ANC that you do not represent South Africa,” he said at a SA Zionist Federation rally supporting Israel.

This president, his party, and government are backing a very cruel and savage act which has greatly upset good people worldwide. How could they do that.

But the Jewish community in South Africa, estimated to be about 65,000 people, does not all agree in criticizing the government’s backing of the Palestinians.

Jonathan Shapiro, a cartoonist who has won awards, describes himself as a non-religious Jewish person. He believes it is worth noting that many important members of the ANC, who fought against apartheid, were Jewish and did not support Israel.

“I believe that Farber is not aware of the fact that many important Jewish heroes in the fight against apartheid were strongly opposed to the Israel colonial project,” said Shapiro, who is also known as Zapiro, in an interview with the BBC.

He said that ANC leaders like Joe Slovo, Arthur Goldreich, Rusty Bernstein, Ronnie Kasrils, and Amy Thornton have a history of being socialists or communists, or generally being people who fight for justice in various struggles.

He said that Ms. Farber could not act like the ANC didn’t have any opinion on the situation in Palestine.

During the fight against white minority rule, the ANC became friends with leaders like Fidel Castro from Cuba, Muammar Gaddafi from Libya, and Yasser Arafat from the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO).

They all supported and helped each other with physical materials or emotional encouragement and viewed each other as similar movements for liberation.

Arafat was one of the first leaders Mandela got to know after getting out of prison on 11 February 1990.

The former PLO leader was part of a group of leaders from nearby countries in South Africa who worked together to fight against apartheid. They met Mandela in Zambia only two weeks after he was released from being in prison for 27 years.

Even though Mandela didn’t ask for anything specific before the meeting, Arafat had already accepted that Israel has the right to exist. A few years later, he also signed the Oslo Accords. Under these circumstances, the PLO agreed that Israel has the right to exist and stopped using terrorism as a means of achieving its goals. In return, steps were taken to establish Palestinian self-governance in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Foreign Minister Pandor is facing criticism for talking on the phone with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh shortly after the attack on 7 October.

Ms Pandor ignored the criticism and said to the national broadcaster SABC that the ANC learned from their experience of fighting the apartheid government that the only way to resolve a conflict is by talking to the people who oppose you.

South Africa is committed to finding answers and encouraging harmony. When the leaders of Hamas wanted to talk to me, I said yes and told them that South Africa wants peace. It’s my job to do this.

“When the apartheid state wanted to communicate with our leaders, we didn’t say: ‘They have been causing us harm, they have incarcerated our fathers and grandfathers. ‘ Instead, we opted to say: ‘Let’s have a conversation. ‘ This represents the nature of South Africans,” she explained.

Mr Ramaphosa, who was involved in obtaining a peace agreement in Northern Ireland, believes that South Africa is prepared to assist in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can use their knowledge and skills in resolving conflicts to help find a resolution.

But, the Jewish Board of Deputies in South Africa says if they were to kick out Israel’s ambassador, it would go against what the government claims it believes in, which is talking to both sides of the conflict.

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