Christian and Jewish voices in South Africa have expressed disappointment at the ANC’s resolution on Wednesday to downgrade the SA embassy in Israel to a liaison office.
The anti-Israel decision at the party’s national elective conference in Johannesburg — a day ahead of yesterday’s United Nations General Assembly vote against the United States decision recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — was taken “to give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine”, the ANC said in a statement. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, were at the ANC conference as observers.
The ANC move stemmed from a call by the party’s Western Cape branch in January to downgrade ties with Israel.
The Christian Ministers Council Of Southern Africa (CMCSA) yesterday expressed “great concern” at the ANC’s resolution, saying the ruling party “hastily took this drastic decision without proper consultation with the broader Christian community who constitute a large majority of the electorate”.
“The situation is worsened by the cosy relationship between the ANC and Hamas who were at the the ANC conference to enforce this biased resolution,” said the CMCSA in a press release.
“The leadership of the ANC, who are majority Chrisitian, are aware of the rich Christian heritage which is etched within the borders of Israel and the downgrade will have serious infringing consequences on our faith as Christians in South Africa who embark on regular pilgrimages to the holy city Jerusalem for various religious practices.
“We therefore appeal for an audience with the ANC NEC in order to present our case in a similar manner the Hamas has been given audience on the 18 October 2015 and also at the 54th Conference,” said the CMCSA.
‘Not voice of the government’
ACDP MP and Member of the Parliamentary Committee on International Relations and Cooperation, Cheryllyn Dudley, said yesterday: “While this [the ANC resolution to downgrade ties with Israel] is disappointing it is the voice of the ANC branches and not the voice of government. South Africa presently continues to have full diplomatic relations with Israel — a situation that will only change should the South African government decide to adopt the recommendation as its official policy.”
Dudley said: “The ACDP has Israel/SA relations close to our heart and we will continue to work positively with the majority in parliament on this issue and will continue to appeal to government not to downgrade relations. We support government’s present position of keeping open channels with both Israel and Palestinians in order to positively influence peace in the Middle East.”
Prior to the ANC conference a group of African Christian ministries and organisations posted an open letter to the ANC urging it not to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv and urging people to sign a petition which would be delivered at the ANC conference.
In a statement released today SA Friends of Israel (SAFI) said it questioned the motives behind the ANC’s “discriminatory decision that would effectively prevent South Africa from playing any relevant role in bringing about peace or dialogue between Israel and Palestinians. This downgrade will do nothing for the Palestinian cause, and will have a detrimental effect on many South Africans”.
Visa-free status at risk
SAFI said downgrading the embassy could result in SA citizens losing their current visa-free status in travel to Israel, which would require them to travel to the nearest Israeli Embassy in Kenya to apply for a visa to enter Israel.
“A Staggering +- 44 million South Africans profess to be Christian and South African pilgrims account for the highest number of inbound visitors to Israel from the African continent.
“People of faith will stand up and speak against this affront to their religion and beliefs. And we reject any attempt by the ANC to interfere in these religious beliefs, as the eternal word of God is stronger than a transitory ANC resolution.
“We implore all our friends of Israel to take action by signing the petition: http://bit.ly/2kxRitR ,” said SAFI.
Condemning the ANC resolution, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) “questioned the motives of organisations and individuals who have managed to ‘capture’ the ANC’s international relations agenda including the BDS”.
“It appears to us that the ANC’s foreign policy formulation process was hijacked by forces that have a limited interest in promoting South Africa’s and key South African communities’ wellbeing and are rather obsessed with undermining the viability of Israel and harming the local Jewish community. The broad presence of Hamas – a terrorist organisation which actively calls for the destruction of Israel — at the elective conference and its extensive lobbying efforts supports this view,” said the SAJBD and SAZF in a joint statement yesterday.
The joint statement spells out ways in which downgrading ties with Israel would make SA poorer.
Concluding its press release on the ANC Israel resolution, the CMCSA said the ANC should remember that “their support for a foreign Palestinian liberation objective should not be at the expense of our religious rights and freedom at home, the ANC has to recognise that the majority Christian citizens of South Africa are the ones who keep them in power and not even one Palestinian votes in South Africa, the ANC needs to also draw the line between the political and religious agendas of all pro-Palestinian movements whose main objective is to push a Muslim Dominace agenda hidden behind geo-political issues in the Upper North African Region (The so-called Middle East)”.
“The CMCSA further wishes to remind the ANC that is was in a church that the ANC was founded, and even now it’s only churches and not any other religious buildings that open their doors for ANC leaders to campaign and promote their political objectives. We pray for you, we bury your dead, we heal your sicknesses and bless your leaders, yet when it comes to matters that affect our faith you reject us and consistently stab us in the back, This has to stop.
“African National Congress please don’t destroy us the voting Christian community for the benefit of battles beyond our borders,” the press release ends.