Wednesday, December 3, 2008
How Soon They Forget
By Haviv Rettig
The South African Zionist Federation blasted the country's president, Kgalema Motlanthe, this week for signing a petition equating Israel with apartheid.
The petition, titled "We fought against apartheid; we see no reason to celebrate it in Israel now," ran in the country's Mail & Guardian newspaper on November 21 and carried over 120 signatures from senior public figures.
The SAZF, the local Jewish community's pro-Israel umbrella, called on Motlanthe "to distance himself as a signatory from this appalling and abusive petition and to confirm that not only does he not share its sentiments, but that he, too, condemns it as being counterproductive to any moves towards peace which are vital for the well-being of the region."
According to the SAZF, a spokesman for Motlanthe tried to shrug off the issue, insisting the president had signed the petition "in his personal capacity long before he became president - I don't know why this has been published now."
But the Jewish organization was unhappy with the response, demanding a formal distancing from that position. The organization noted that "President Motlanthe has not yet spoken out on this issue, which conflicts with the accepted ANC and government policies promoting a two-state solution in the Middle East with an independent Palestinian state existing side by side in peace with Israel."
"We're now in a wait-and-see. The community thought it had a good relationship with the new government and the new president. This is a spoke in the wheel," said David Kaplan, former chairman of the SAZF in Israel, and currently editor of its magazine, TelFed.
According to Kaplan, the incident could raise tensions between the Jewish community and the South African government. "If the state president can sign a petition like this and then doesn't do anything [to distance himself from it], how secure will the Jewish community feel in South Africa?