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‘Sever ties with Apartheid Israel’: South Africans to government

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Picture: Oupa Mokoena /Independent Newspapers / Taken on October 20, 2023 – Hundreds of South Africans join the protest led by the African National Congress, in support of Palestine at the Israeli embassy in Pretoria on Friday, October 20. ANC members have called on their own government to increase pressure on Israel, urging it to recall the Israeli ambassador.

By Pavan Kulkarni

While South Africa has demanded an ICC probe into Israeli war crimes, voices from across the country are demanding action, including breaking of ties with Israel.

“The only way to bring about peace is the fulfilment of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to human rights, dignity and statehood,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the Summit for Peace held in Cairo, Egypt on Saturday, October 21.

As of Tuesday, October 24, over 5,791 Palestinians – including over 2,000 children – have been killed since October 7 by the Israeli military’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, a 365 strip of land where it has held 2.3 million Palestinians under a siege for nearly 17 years.

“As South Africans, we can relate to what is happening to Palestinians,” Ramaphosa said, recollecting that in their own struggle against the “nightmare of apartheid”, they too “were subjected to untold suffering just like the Palestinians are going through”.

Domestically, pressure is increasing on Ramaphosa’s government to translate his words of solidarity into concrete actions against “the apartheid state of Israel”.

SA one of ‘biggest trade partners of an illegitimate state’

Reiterating the long-standing demand for the economic boycott of Israel and the expulsion of its ambassador, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third largest party in South Africa’s parliament, picketed Israel’s embassy in capital Pretoria on Monday, October 23.

Calling on South Africans to show “disgust” at the continued “strong relations with an apartheid state, diplomatically, culturally, and also economically”, EFF MP Nazier Paulsen complained ahead of the picket, “We are one of the biggest trade partners of an illegitimate state”.

Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers / Taken on October 20, 2023 – EFF President Julius Malema addresses his supporters outside the Israeli embassy during the party’s picket in solidarity with Palestine.

EFF leader and MP, Julius Malema said while addressing the picket, “As long as our children are being killed in Palestine, this place [outside the Israeli embassy] will become our permanent residence,” warning that the protest gathering on Monday was “not the last one”.

It was not the first either. Earlier on Friday, October 20, hundreds participated in another picket led by the Ramphosa’s own ruling African National Congress (ANC).

“The Israeli embassy … must close and the ambassador must go,” ANC’s first deputy secretary general Nomvula Mokonyane told the demonstrators at this picket, urging South Africans to boycott Israeli products.

The ANC’s memorandum to the Israeli ambassador, Eliav Belotserkovsky, states: “Over the last two decades in particular, the state of Israel has subjected the Palestinian people to forms of racial oppression and brutal suppression, no different to what the Black people experienced under the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

The memorandum went on to condemn “the selective morality and unconscionable stance of the US and some EU countries that have spoken only about the killing of Israeli civilians by Hamas while saying nothing about the killing of Palestinian civilians by the apartheid state of Israel”.

Israel must be held accountable for war crimes

South Africa called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to investigate the grave breaches by Israeli leaders of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the Rome Statute”. The unfolding atrocities in the Gaza strip “is a test of the ICC”, Mokonyane told the SABC from the picket line on Friday.

After the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombed the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in northern Gaza on October 17, killing more than 500 people with a single strike, South Africa’s Department of International Relations & Cooperation called on the ICC to intervene.

“Under International Humanitarian Law and Geneva Conventions, Israel has committed war crimes and needs to be held responsible for its actions by the International Criminal Court and the international community as a whole,” said its statement.

“South Africa calls on the international community to end its indifference to the gross violations against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and for the UN Security Council to take enforcement action to halt the unfolding genocide.”

‘Barking with the hounds and running with the hares?’

Nevertheless, “we are not entirely convinced that the ANC is being genuine and sincere”, maintains, Mametlwe Sebei, President of the General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (GIWUSA), accusing the ruling party of “barking with the hounds and running with the hares”.

“It can’t be that the ANC, which is formally committed to solidarity with the people of Palestine, has not done the most basic thing in its 29 years in power – which is to terminate the diplomatic relations with the Israeli regime and expel its ambassador.”

Instead, he told Peoples Dispatch, the government is “tying” the South African economy “even more closely to the Zionist project” by allowing “the takeover of key industries like” the dairy giant Clover “by Zionist corporation”, MILCO, in 2019.

“MILCO is an Israeli company that … operates in Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands and materially supports the occupation including [by] funding … far-right Zionist Parties linked to these settlements,” recalled a statement by GIWUSA.

The union had led a strike at Clover for over six months in 2021-22, demanding for the “divestment of MILCO from Clover”.

By unanimous resolution, the Clover Shop Steward Council raised this demand again in the meeting with the management on October 18.

Even as Israel denies access to food, water, fuel and medicines to the Palestinians it bombards in Gaza, it is “reaping the full economic benefits from its investments in South Africa”, he complained, demanding the expropriation of all “Zionist corporations”.

While the Palestinians get ANC’s words of solidarity, “the Zionists”, Sebei added, “get the full political benefit from South Africa’s diplomatic recognition, particularly because it comes from a state that has emerged from the liberation struggle against Apartheid in this country”.

Should the government continue to fail to act on the growing demand for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and the expropriation of its corporations in the country, “we have to label and treat” the ruling party “as Zionist collaborators”, GIWUSA added in its statement.

The union will take part in the ‘National Day of Action’, in solidarity with Palestine on Saturday, October 28, alongside others from the South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the country’s second-largest trade union confederation. “Tens of thousands will take to the streets in all major cities of the country,” Sebei said.

EFF threatens action against ‘all in business with Israel’

Parallely, the EFF has threatened to take direct action against the South African operations of multinational businesses collaborating with Israel. Referring to McDonalds’ offer of free food for the IDF soldiers in Israel, Malema gave McDonalds in South Africa time “until the end of this month to issue a statement, distancing itself from what McDonald is doing in Israel, giving murderers food to murder women and children”.

In his speech at the picket on Monday, he also issued an ultimatum to the Australian company, Woolworths. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has been campaigning since 2014 against this supermarket chain, accusing it of sourcing food products and fresh produce worth 12 million rands from Israeli companies, stealing resources from Occupied Palestinian land.

“Woolworths has got till the end of this month to remove every product on their shelves that comes from Israel. If they don’t … we will go and remove them ourselves. We don’t want any product of Israel sold here in South Africa. We don’t want the food that comes from the people who have the blood of innocent people on their hands,” Malema said, adding, “We are warning all those who are in business with Israel.”

Pavan Kulkarni is a journalist and an author at Peoples Dispatch

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch