Has the DA abandoned its position on Israel?

Bill Eloff, DA Deputy Spokesperson on International Relations and Co-operation.
Bill Eloff, DA Deputy Spokesperson on International Relations and Co-operation, represented the party at a Parliamentary Conference on Palestine earlier this month.
ACDP only party to oppose anti-Israel statement

By Gareth van Onselen — Originally published in Business Day Live

THE Democratic Alliance (DA) has always maintained a balanced position on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestine conflict. It advocates a two-state solution that recognises the right of Palestinians to self-determination and for Israel to exist within secure and agreed borders — as close to the 1967 “Green Line” as possible.

It argues that while it is necessary that the Israeli government stands firm against right-wing extremism, it fulfills its plan to disengage from Gaza and certain settlements in the West Bank. In turn, that it is equally necessary that the Palestinian government stop allowing terror to continue and that it ends anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media.

The party has set out its policy in a position paper and, in the past, in numerous speeches and statements on the subject.

Recently, however, that position seems to have changed. Earlier this month, its representative at a parliamentary conference on Palestine uncritically adopted a range of highly hostile resolutions on Israel and registered no reservation in endorsing the final, entirely pro-Palestinian declaration. This siding with Palestine, without qualification, suggests the DA has now officially abandoned any onus it placed on Palestine to act with responsibility for its actions.

The party now wholly attributes any and all culpability for the conflict to Israel whose conduct it completely condemns. That is a position it has now declared and it will support the Africa National Congress (ANC) government in pursuing it.

Either that or this represents yet another communications foul up, as its representative again failed to understand DA policy or articulate it properly in key moments that require conviction, not ambivalence.

The portfolio committee on international relations hosted The Parliamentary Solidarity Conference in support of the peoples of Palestine, Western Sahara and Cuba in the Good Hope Chamber in Parliament, Cape Town on February 6 .

It was described by portfolio chairman Tisetso Magama as “the first of its kind in Parliament” and was attended by representatives from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party, the ANC, the Congress of the People (COPE) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Other attendees included the Coalition for a Free Palestine, the Friends of Cuba Society, the Western Sahara Solidarity Forum, Kairos Southern Africa [an ecumenical group that calls for sanctions against Israel], the Media Review Network and African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). BDS South Africa and some members of the South African Jewish community “who identify with the struggles of Palestine, Cuba and Western Sahara” also attended.

Bill Eloff, a member of Parliament and the party’s deputy shadow minister on international relations, represented the DA. A second DA MP, Justus de Goede, was there for some of the time.

The official purpose of the conference was spelt out in Orwellian cuttlefish ink by the committee as follows: “It is a culmination of extensive work carried out by the committee in response to the call by President (Jacob) Zuma in his successive state of the nation addresses since 2010, with a message that solidarity is and should feature as a strong element of South Africa’s internationalism.”

The conference description stated elsewhere that the plan was “To produce an ACTION-ORIENTED DECLARATION for a Parliamentary Plan of Action taking the solidarity movement forward towards a peaceful resolution of the challenges facing the three nations”.

Entrenching of ANC’s anti-Israel stance
The blunter, unofficial purpose was to further entrench the ANC’s and the government’s rabid anti-Israel stance, confirm that Israel is an “apartheid state” and show uncritical “solidarity” with Palestine while condemning Israel.

From the record, it appears the DA played its part by endorsing the key sentiments without registering so much as a whisper of opposition.

Ahmed Kathrada opened the conference. He was followed by South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations, Marius Fransman — a man who has demonstrated little more than contempt for Israel and the Jewish community in South Africa — and finally Magama.

You can read the full set of 15 resolutions adopted by the conference on Palestine here. They formed the foundation of the final declaration, officially titled the Cape Town Declaration, and included the following:

• South Africa establish a “special court” to deal with war crimes and that it address Israel’s conduct and South Africans serving in the Israeli Defence Force.

• Parliament adopts a 2009 Human Sciences Research Council report that found Israel guilty of apartheid.

• South Africa stops all financial transactions with Israeli companies and lobby for financial support for Palestine.

• Complete military, financial and political sanctions must be applied against Israel until it complies with all applicable UN resolutions and international law and ends its occupation.

• The South African government and Parliament campaign for Israel to be suspended from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication banking network.

• The South African government and Parliament table the conference resolutions at the African Union, United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Those resolutions were adopted almost exactly as they came out of the relevant working group that produced them. Whether or not Eloff was part of that group is unclear. The subject for the working group was: “Palestine: Intensifying the struggle for self-determination and efforts to bring about a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Palestinian scarves
Significantly, not a single resolution was critical of Palestine in any way, shape or form. Likewise, no Jewish or Christian organisations were invited to make submissions, although some did attend after being tipped off. Outside the conference venue anti-Israel posters were on display. Inside, Palestinian scarves were handed out most parties, including the DA representative, wore them. The only noticeable exception was the ACDP. The Palestinian ambassador was invited to address the conference. The Israeli ambassador was either not invited or declined to attend.

From the agenda alone, there could have been no doubt as to what the purpose of the conference was. And, from the official record, there can be no doubt that the DA failed to raise a single objection.

On her blog, Marthie Momberg, who describes herself as an “advocate for justice and peace in South Africa and in Palestine and Israel”, sets out how events unfolded.

“Different political parties attended the proceedings and the ACDP was the only party to distance itself from the declaration,” she wrote. “They voted against it, and so did three members of the public.”

The Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG) has uploaded on its website audio recordings of the events. You can listen to them here and here At no point in any of the recordings did Eloff express any reservations.

On the 31st minute in recording one, the group is asked if anyone has any reservations against the draft declaration by show of hands. The DA kept silent. Instead, someone rose to suggest that any reference to a “two-state solution” be exorcised on the grounds it was effectively promoting a “Bantustan” policy.

On the 39th minute again in recording one, the chair formally asks if anyone is against the declaration. Four people register their opposition. They included the ACDP representative Cheryllyn Dudley and Ncedi Mayekiso, Vivien Myburgh and Myron Phillips — members of the public. Eloff was not among them. “We will record four people that are against the declaration but the majority of people are ecstatic, so thank you so much,” said the chair to loud applause.

In his closing remarks, Magama, clearly far more politically aware of what was happening than the DA, stated: “We have always sought to bring together all parties and so, up to this point, in spite of the difference of opinion, in fact even on the Palestine question, there are differences of opinion, but there are resolutions that were taken, presented to Parliament… and so they are resolutions of Parliament, not of the committee anymore…

“When that happens all participants of the process, including the parties, are now bound, they are now part of those resolutions, and that is why we have now been able to work together with ACDP, DA, COPE and IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) and others in engaging on this level, despite of the differences.”

After listening to every draft resolution being read out and the adoption of the final declaration, Eloff rose to endorse the outcome. But not before the Magama said he would like to “personally thank” him for his role. The recording cuts before Eloff speaks but, among other things, he noted that the conference was a “historic moment”, the “first of its kind” and that it had been a “great success”.

In the written minutes of the conference on the PMG website, it records the vote of thanks given by Eloff as follows:

“Mr Eloff thanked every participant at the meeting and said that the discussions and engagements of the day had been very fruitful. This was a mark of progress in the right direction in fostering solidarity to build a just and better world. He declared the conference closed.”

It might have been the “right direction” for the conference, but for the DA it represents a sudden hand break turn into a brick wall.

The question that now faces the DA is two fold. First, there is the question of what exactly its position on Israel is. “A couple of atrocities have been committed — many more on the Palestinian side — but wrongs have been done,” DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said in June 2012. “Palestinian disadvantage” had to be addressed alongside “Palestinian responsibility”.

“Israel needs to be held accountable for excessively violent and military responses, likewise the Palestinians (for) terrorising Israelis.”

However, that position of mutual moral accountability was nowhere to be found in the Cape Town Declaration. The relevant sections on Palestine entirely condemn Israel and make no effort even to mention Palestinian atrocities. The DA does not agree that Israel is an apartheid state. Or does it? The resolutions are unequivocal. The DA does not support sanctions against Israel. Or does it? The DA does not support the establishment of a war crimes court that targets Israel. Or does it?

Despite Magama’s claim, this was not a formal committee and its findings have no implications for Parliament, the law or official government policy, which is lucky for the DA. Although, that said, the Department of International Relations took the occasion seriously and these resolutions will no doubt put to Parliament at some point. Thus, they are not insignificant.

Second, the problem of poor judgement DA public representatives exercised seems to be something of a contagion and many appear infected. For the second time in the party’s recent history, a DA MP seems to have gone rogue much like the party’s two representatives on the labour portfolio did last year when considering new affirmative action legislation. They were both effectively fired from their positions as a result.

In this case, Eloff too appeared unable to identify the import and volatility of the subject in front of him, was unfamiliar with DA policy on it and lacked the wherewithal to articulate it properly at key moments. The result, if the party has not changed its position on Israel, is another MP who has damaged the DA’s reputation through naive ambivalence.

And make no mistake to the South African Jewish community in particular — many of whom are fervent DA supporters, even donors — this conference and its resultant declaration will be seen as nothing more than an official and openly hostile assault on Israel. Ironically, they will now consider turning their affections to the ACDP. It might not be the stuff of front-page headlines but to those for whom this kind of thing matters intensely, this decision will be interpreted as an absolute affront.

Perhaps if the resolutions do come before parliament, the DA will have a chance to rectify its abdication of principle and policy. Until then, once again, it has some explaining to do.

  • The SA Jewish Board of Deputies has published a newsletter in which it expresses disappointment that of all the opposition parties present at the Parliamentary Conference on Palestine “only the African Christian Democratic Party spoke out against this flagrant hijacking of the Parliamentary process by special interest groups”. The SAJBD says it is in the process of following up the matter with government and the various political parties involved. 

    “In addition to conveying our deepest outrage over what we regard as a flagrant abuse of the Parliamentary process, we will be seeking clarity as to how it was allowed to come about and what implications, if any, it has for South Africa’s policy regarding the Middle East question and its relations with the State of Israel”. 



  1. The ACDP should be commended for its stance on Israel. In another article last week, Rev Meshoe, its leader, was quoted as saying that the DA is as liberal as the ANC. He is correct.
    But Meshoe and his party has to take at least some blame for the liberal policies of the DA and other opposition parties. The idea of a mixture of church and state is not a Biblical idea, certainly not a New Testament idea. The ACDP party members may be Godly people, but they are following an unGodly idea. If they were called by God into politics, and I don’t doubt it, they were called to be the influence in a party that is capable of governing a country in a fair and ethical way, with excellent management skills. Nothing more, nothing less. Government is not called to do what the church is called to do.
    We Christians, no matter what our calling in life, are called to be the salt of the earth. We are not called to do what the ACDP has done, to stay in our own little salt shakers and say “We are the salt, and we are going to stay in our own salt shaker and refuse to be sprinkled on the food because we believe that that would amount to compromise”.
    Yes, the leaders of the ACDP could still play a significant part in SA politics and even government, but they would need to get out of their shaker and start making a prophetic difference within the DA and other opposition party ranks.

  2. From: Johan Malan
    Sent: Thursday, February 20, 2014 5:43 AM
    To: Hanno
    Subject: Re: DA staan saam met ANC teen Israel
    Die tweestaat-oplossing druis in teen Israel se Goddelike mandaat op die land (Gen. 13:14-15; 17:8; 28:13). Alle nasies wat ‘n aandeel het in die gepoogde verdeling van Israel se grondgebied, tree anti-Joods en anti-Bybels op en sal deur die Here geoordeel word (Joël 3:1-2).

    From: Hanno
    Sent: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 5:39 PM
    To: Prof Johan Malan
    Subject: DA staan saam met ANC teen Israel
    Beste prof Johan, Die “tweestaat-oplossing” – soos hieronder deur die VF+ voorgestaan – is dit Bybels? Dankie. Groete. Hanno.

    Verraai die DA ook nou Israel en die Joodse minderheid in Suid-Afrika? 2014-02-19 Adv Anton Alberts
    In ‘n tydsgewrig waar die ANC al hoe meer aggressief teenoor die Israelse staat begin optree, veral die departement van handel en nywerheid se gedwonge herklassifisering van produkte uit besette gebiede, blyk dit nou verder dat die DA in nog ‘n moontlike beleids-ommeswaai saam met die ANC kant kies teen Israel en hom ten volle aan die kant van die Palestynse bevolking in hul stryd teen Israel skaar, sê adv. Anton Alberts, die VF Plus se parlementêre woordvoerder oor handel en nywerheid.
    Luidens ‘n artikel die week in Business Day Live (17 Februarie 2014) het ‘n afvaardiging van die DA op ‘n parlementêre konferensie vroeër vandeesmaand sy rug op Israel gekeer en hom geskaar by die anti-Israelse sentimente van die ANC. Tydens die konferensie, met die oogmerk om solidariteit te toon met die mense van die Palestynse gebiede, Wes-Sahara en Kuba, is verskeie anti-Israelse resolusies aangeneem, terwyl die DA se parlementêre afvaardiging geen teenstem of enige kommentaar daarteenoor uitgebring het nie.
    In November verlede jaar het Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Suid-Afrika se minister vir internasionale betrekkinge, uitlatings gemaak wat so ontstellend was dat die voormalige Israelse minister van buitelandse sake, Avigdor Lieberman, alle Jode gewaarsku het om Suid-Afrika om hul eie veiligheid te verlaat. Nkoana-Mashabane het toe luidens berigte aan vakbondlede gesê die regering se amptelike beleid is om geen verhouding met Israel op ministeriële vlak te hê tot daar nie vordering gemaak is met die Palestynse vredesproses en tot dié mense se probleme nie opgelos is nie.
    Sy het voorts gesê die Palestynse mense se ‘struggle’ is ook Suid-Afrika se ‘struggle’.
    Nou blyk dit die DA het sy gewig by die ANC ingegooi oor die land se amptelike houding teenoor Israel. Volgens adv. Alberts verg dit net ‘n klein sprong vanaf bloot anti-Joodse sentiment tot ‘n veldtog waarin die Joodse minderheid binne Suid-Afrika met die goedkeuring van die DA ook geteiken word.
    “Die uitlatings van Nkoana-Mashabane dat geen senior regeringsverteenwoordigers Israel amptelik mag besoek nie, kom effektiewelik neer op sanksies teenoor Israel.
    “VF Plus staan ‘n tweestaat-oplossing en die staking van geweld tussen Israel en die Palestynse gebiede voor. Dit sluit selfbeskikking vir die Palestynse gebiede in en die onafhanklikheid van Israel.
    “Die DA sal aan die Joodse gemeenskap moet verduidelik wat hulle werklike standpunte oor Israel is. Dit blyk dat hierdie die vierde skielike beleids-ommekeer van die DA kan wees na die dubbele bolmakiesie oor ekonomiese rasse-transformasie en die grondkwessie. Minderhede sal hiervan kennis moet neem aangesien die ware opposisie nie meer by die DA lê nie,” sê adv. Alberts.
    Van die resolusies wat aangeneem is en waarteen die DA geen beswaar aangeteken het nie, sluit in volle militêre, ekonomiese en politieke sanksies teen Israel, die skep van spesiale howe om Israelse burgers en Suid-Afrikaners wat in die Israelse weermag dien te verhoor vir oorlogsmisdade, en die stop van alle finansiële transaksies met Israeliese besighede.

  3. Gods word is very clear! About HIS people Israel.”I will bless those who bless thee, & I will CURSE those that CURSE thee” Beware those that turn AGAIST ISRAEL!!!

  4. Agreed Leon ! God FORBID that RSA become a goat nation (turning against Israel) – not because of the Jews or the Land but because GOD has chosen them and Jerusalem is the city to which Jesus will return. Selah

    • Too late Barbara, SA IS already a goat nation who has turned against Israel.
      Worse, they have turned against a Holy God.

      • Alan, let us never forget the power of prayer and the grace and goodness extended by God for repentance. It is never too late, never cf Nineveh

  5. I am HIGHLY disappointed in the DA for having no back bone. before these political groups even debate Israel, they should know their Bible first. (you cant fly a plane if you are not a pilot)All these political parties dont have a clue about what is actually happening in Israel..Shame on the DA and rest of ANC friendship cirle.

  6. The DA just lost my vote!

    • Mike, I felt the same way and contacted the DA for a response, so a follow up on this will be issued in tomorrow’s edition.

  7. Asa fromer poitician from Europe I have 2 commenst:
    1)As Christians in simple terms we are called to be pro- Israel – that is biblical
    2) That does not mean that usrael always behaves in the way it should
    3) In the greater scheme of things biblically this anti Israel attitude seems to simply be pointing us clearly towards the End times ; it highlights for me where the final action will take place with Armageddon.

  8. Jaco Ries is quite correct re his point about the ACDP and Christian political parties not being a biblical concept. As a former politican overseas I was a Christian in a secular party and did not always agree with my party and they knew it. I tried to be ‘salt and light’ and wrote about this in a previous Gateway News and received support for my stand. I am not saying that the DA or the ANC are biblical in their stand on Israel but that does not mean that it is a reason for an unbiblical concept of a ‘Christian political party’.

  9. For us as South Africans, we need to drop the loyalty vote idea that has led to a perpetuation of chaos. We should now responsibly vote according to Biblical principles and informed conscience.