Because of the election battle, an important item fell by the wayside that should have resonated here: South Africa has decided to downgrade its relations with Israel to the level of liaison bureau, which will not deal with bilateral relations. Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane, who was recalled to protest the killing of demonstrators in Gaza, will not return. South Africa has essentially severed diplomatic relations with Israel. We’re left with Chad.
One can, of course, take comfort in the arms of the Brazilian president, admire the president of the Philippines, hug the prime minister of Hungary, and take pleasure in U.S. President Donald Trump. But South Africa is not just any country; it’s a symbol of justice, despite all its difficulties, corruption and crime. By cutting off relations it has stamped the mark of Cain on Israel’s forehead.
The Foreign Ministry’s response to the move only illustrates how low Israeli propaganda can go. “It’s a nod toward the country’s Muslim population, because of the approaching elections,” was the unbelievable Israeli explanation for the break. How miserable, how insulting to the intelligence, how ignorant and repulsive that is. It wasn’t the killing of demonstrators in Gaza, or solidarity with the oppressed, or South Africa’s own legacy, just a gesture to the Muslim voter. With pathetic responses like this, it would be better for the Foreign Ministry to continue to disintegrate. We have no need for it.
The severing of relations with the country of Nelson Mandela shouldn’t merely stir up sad thoughts about who Israel’s friends and critics are; South Africa, in a move that generates respect, is teaching Israel an important lesson about instilling the legacy of the past and learning its lessons. By cutting off ties with an occupying, apartheid state, it’s telling Israel: We’ve learned the lessons of our past. What about you?
The lesson that South Africa has learned is: Never again. In theory it’s similar to the lesson imparted to Israelis from the Holocaust, but actually it’s the opposite. When South Africa says “never again,” it plans to continue battling racism and apartheid everywhere in the world; it isn’t prepared to cooperate with regimes that are racist or apartheid under any circumstances, even if there’s a price to pay.
It’s not simple to sever relations with Israel. Trump might get angry, and there is still a strong Zionist community in South Africa. But South Africa is motivated by more than just interests.
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Israel is the total opposite. Its lesson from the Holocaust is, as Golda Meir put it, that Jews are now permitted to do anything. Generations of young people are sent on trips to Auschwitz that corrupt their souls and rot their consciences. They are told their country must be strong, to live only by the sword, and that the whole world is against it. They wrap themselves in flags, cry and swear to live by power and not to rely on anyone.
There is no humane message or moral lesson. That’s why Israel can embrace Rodrigo Duterte, stroke Jair Bolsonaro and admire Trump, or supply arms to all the tyrannical countries in the world and ignore the moral and ethical implications of its foreign policy. That’s for wimps.
When South Africa says “No” to Israel, it is speaking in the name of Mandela, who supported the Palestinians in their struggle and felt a moral obligation to assist them, but also tried to maintain good relations with Israel despite its shameful ties to apartheid. There’s no doubt that today Mandela would also support severing relations. South Africa is also speaking for those exemplary Jews who struggled hand in hand with the black freedom fighters, were wounded and jailed with them, and one can assume are already fed up with Israel. We have almost no such brave moralists who will struggle alongside the Palestinians.
The state of conscience has decided to ostracize the State of Israel. Israel doesn’t care. “Cry, the Beloved Country,” wrote Alan Paton about his country during its dark days. In Israel, there isn’t anyone who’ll cry.