The South African government has condemned the anti-Semitism at the non-governmental conference against racism held in Durban last August. Referring to the "disgraceful events," Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad said the conference was hijacked and turned into an anti-Semitic event.
Pahad made his comments in a speech earlier this month at the annual conference of the South African Zionist Federation in Johannesburg.
Pahad also used the speech to confirm what he said were "immutable pillars" of South African policy: "unequivocal and unchanging support" for Israel's right to exist within defined borders, in peace and security with its neighbors; utter condemnation of terrorism against Israeli civilians; and total support for an independent Palestinian state.
The South African stand carries considerable weight because of the country's post-apartheid moral voice and its leadership role in Africa and the non-aligned movement.
The anti-Semitism in Durban, described by Jewish participants as the most virulent seen in public since the 1930s, shocked Jews throughout the world. It caused grave anxiety among South Africa's own 80,000-strong Jewish community, especially because of the rise of militant Muslim groups in the country.
The South African government kept silent at the time, to the dismay of those who applauded its commitment to fight group hatred. The conference of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) immediately preceded the United Nations World Conference against Racism.
The events of September 11 overtook the Durban conferences and has pushed them into the background. But the anti-racism declaration issued by governments is an enduring message and is being pursued. At the same time, the NGO declaration which labelled Israel an "apartheid state" and Zionism as "racist" is being picked up by some to attack Israel.
Pahad said that he wanted to make it "unequivocally clear" that his government recognized that the NGO part of the conference "was hijacked and used by some with an anti-Israeli agenda to turn it into an anti-Semitic event." It was why the world's governments had refused to take the NGO statement into their final document.
"Additionally, the South African government as chair worked hard to ensure an acceptable and honorable outcome of the final document which avoided singling out Israel for exclusive criticism in regard to the current crisis in the Middle East. So successful were our efforts in this regard, that our president was personally thanked for South Africa's role in ensuring that outcome by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres," he said.