Johannesburg - The ruling African National Congress voted at its annual conference Thursday night to support the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The ANC declared it was "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel."
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In another resolution referring to Israeli anti-African protests in June that turned violent in south Tel Aviv, the conference declared: "The ANC abhors the recent Israeli state-sponsored xenophobic attacks and deportation of Africans and requests that this matter should be escalated to the African Union."
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa said in a statement trumpeting the ANC's decision: "The Israeli racism and xenophobia against Africans is shared and even encouraged by Israeli politicians including the Israeli prime minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said: 'If we don't stop their [African immigrants'] entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to - 600,000 and threatens - our national identity.'"
The conference called on "all South Africans to support the programs and campaigns of the Palestinian civil society which seek to put pressure on Israel to engage with the Palestinian people to reach a just solution."
The country's BDS activists have been trying for most of this year to tug the ANC and the government into the international BDS campaign. It has succeeded in getting Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies to introduce legislation that would force importers to note on goods brought in from Israel whether they have been manufactured in "the occupied territories."
This planned legislation is the subject of a high court tussle, brought by the South African Zionist Federation against the trade ministry and the minister.
Until now the ANC government has had good relations with the local Jewish community, if not always with Israel. But the specter of the government or the ANC (the two are largely interchangeable) embracing BDS has caused a great deal of tension. In October, Wendy Kahn, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, angrily denounced the behavior in parliament of Davies.
Haaretz has learned that certain senior members of the Jewish board have been lobbying leading ANC officials, including some in the presidency, and working with highly-placed ANC members who are opposed to the BDS movement.
But none of them wants to be named and what they have been doing has mostly been carried out behind closed doors.
On Sunday, however, the chief rabbi of South Africa, Warren Goldstein, and seven Christian leaders took out an advertisement on the front page of Johannesburg's Sunday Times, the largest-circulation weekly in the country, calling on the ANC conference not to blame Israel alone for the conflict with the Palestinians.
The open letter called on the ANC not to do anything rash with regard to Israel at the conference, which was held in Mangaung, but rather to "promote peaceful negotiations in the Holy Land so that this bitter conflict can end in peace." The ad read: "There is talk of a motion being considered for the ANC conference in Mangaung, condemning only Israel for the current conflict in the Holy Land. ... Such a motion will pit people of different faiths in the ANC against each other and further heighten tensions between South Africans of all faiths during a time when we need to come together in the season of peace."
Thursday night a senior community leader, who did not want to be named, said: "Well, they got their motion, didn't they? Thing is, you can't fight this sort of thing in open letters in the newspapers. In the present climate, if there's a vote about Israelis and Palestinians at an ANC conference, we're going to get whacked six-love, six-love, and six-love. And that's what happened last night in Mangaung."