SA Christians, Jews react to recall of SA ambassador to Israel

SA Jewish Board of Deputies president Zev Krengel expresses disappointment with the ANC’s withdrawal of its ambassador from Israel. (PHOTO: eNCA screenshot).

South Africa’s decision to recall its ambassador to Israel on Monday, following the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces defending their border with Gaza, was shocking and short-sighted, says the ACDP.

“The ACDP is saddened by the loss of life yesterday and we convey our sincere condolences to the families that lost their loved ones, particularly children,” says the party in a media statement released on Tuesday.

But Israel has the right to defend its borders and its citizens while facing real and imminent danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the border fence and attack Israeli citizens, says the ACDP.

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“While the ACDP supports the right to peaceful protest, we do not support the carrying of dangerous weapons, including petrol bombs, during a protest, as Hamas reportedly did.

Mediation opportunity lost — ACDP
“The recall of the South African ambassador will deny South Africa the chance of playing any meaningful mediation role in the Middle East. The decision also smacks of double standards given that the South African government did not [carry out] similar steps when tens of thousands of lives were lost in other Middle Eastern countries, such as Syria.

“The ACDP calls on all South Africans, and believers in particular, to reject this decision, and to work and pray for peace in the the Middle East and Jerusalem. We remain committed to stand with Israel and oppose all forms of anti-Semitism,” says the statement.

During debate in parliament on the International Relations and Cooperation Budget Vote, ADCP MP and Whip Cheryllyn Dudley, also urged the government to remain committed to meaningful and positive engagement in the Middle East.

“Pretending there are ‘good and bad guys’ in this or any situation is futile — we all see what we see and everyone must take responsibility for the abuses suffered by people caught up in defense measures and intifadas under the notion that jihad is a religious duty. The ACDP regrets the loss of life and grieves with all those caught up in the Middle East conflict.

“Hamas has been controlling Gaza since Israel withdrew in 2005. Although many including South Africa have provided help and resources to build Gaza,  the metals imported into Gaza didn’t build industries — instead they were used to make rockets. And  the cement given to Gaza wasn’t used to build houses for those in need — instead they built terror tunnels to reach and murder Israeli citizens. In the 13 years that Hamas has been ruling over Gaza they could have turned the area into a heaven, but instead they chose to turn it into a hell,” she said.

Christian group disappointed
Nkosi Sikelel Afrika – Israel, the provisional name
of a group of leaders from influential advocacy organisations and churches in Cape Town and the Western Cape who have agreed to work together to achieve a shared vision on issues pertaining to Israel, say the government’s recall of the ambassador “is regarded as an enormous disappointment by the bulk of South African Christians”.

“With this action the perception is spread that the government is fanning the flames of conflict in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Foreign policy seems to be strongly influenced by groups of people who seek the demise of Israel.

“We believe that the bulk of South African Christians would prefer to see our government as a conduit and an instrument again towards mediation and reconciliation — as our country was known for in the Mandela era,” says the group in an email responding to the government’s response to the Gaza violence.

“The Christian connection to Israel historically and prophetically runs deep. We demand that the South African Government not only reconsider its decision, but in doing so, solicit a wider range of inputs into its decision-making about Israel,” it says.

SACC supports government action
However, the South African Council of Churches (SACC), has expressed strong support for the government’s decision to withdraw its envoy in Israel and has accused the Israeli military of perpetrating a “horrific massacre of protesting Palestinians”.

“For the Israeli snipers to have used live ammunition on non-violent civilians is rogue behaviour, demonstrating complete disregard for human life, and utter disdain for international law and protocols”, says SACC General  Secretary Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana in a media statement released on Tuesday.

“We welcome the South African government’s action of recalling Ambassador Sisa Ngombane from the mission in Tel Aviv, and we appeal to the community of nations to condemn the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, which like apartheid, should be declared a crime against humanity.

“Palestinian lives are human lives! Both Israel and Palestine deserve to live in peaceful coexistence side by side. The current developments can only push the prospects for peace further and further away,” says the statement.

It also says the SACC believes that the move of the USA embassy to Jerusalem, which is a recognition by the
USA of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, adds fuel to the fire, and is an unnecessary aggravation of a volatile situation that can only further undermine the quest for a win-win solution.

Jewish voices
Meanwhile, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) on Tuesday said in a joint statement that the government’s decision to withdraw its ambassador from Israel “is outrageous and displays gross double standards against the Jewish state”.

“While we, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognise that Israel, as a sovereign state, has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens,” say the organisations.

In their joint statement, both says Israel is facing a real danger, with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.

“By withdrawing its ambassador, South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely-needed resolution to the conflict.

“The rhetoric used by the government has already spilled into anti-Semitic comment on various social media platforms and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community and other peace-loving South Africans,” says the joint statement.

“This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African government to reconsider its decision immediately.”

Since the start of the border conflict on Monday, the day that the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem, the Palestinian death toll has risen to 62, with 50 of those dead believed to be members of the Islamist terror group Hamas. An estimated 1 700 protesters were wounded.

Political pressure in South Africa continued to mount against Israel through the week, with a Muslim-led mass march to parliament in Cape Town on Tuesday with a demand that the government support the Palestinian fight against “apartheid Israel”, calls by the EFF for the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, and a motion submitted to parliament by the NFP calling for the downgrade of SA’s embassy in Israel. The DA, however, while condemning Israel for killing Palestinians, slammed the SA government for pulling its ambassador out of the country at a time when it should be there to show leadership. Predictably, the mainstream media’s coverage of Middle East events this week has followed the Hamas script.

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