The leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, was recently in Israel- a visit that has since given the African National Congress (ANC) some ammunition against its opposition and left South Africans wondering if this was the DA taking lessons from the oppressor or merely going to Israel to learn firsthand about the conflict1 and how South Africa can play a more active role in reaching an agreement between the parties2.
The ANC has taken Maimane’s visit to Israel as a clear indication of the DA’s disregard and undermining of the ruling party’s stance on Israel, misrepresenting South Africa’s position abroad, ignoring diplomatic protocol and choosing Israelis over Palestinians3. The DA’s claims of aspiring to Nelson Mandela’s values such as an unwavering solidarity with the Palestinian people and promotion of human rights, have also been used by the ruling party as a basis to labelling the DA as hypocrites; as if the ANC is not doing the same thing!
While the ANC would like South Africans and the rest of the global community to think that they regard Israel as a pariah, they have not severed all ties with the country. There is still an Israeli embassy in South Africa; why has the ANC allowed the oppressor into their backyard? The water cannons used by the South African police force to disperse protesting students in the 2015/2016 #FeesMustFall protests were procured from an Israeli company, the same cannons used by the oppressor to fire faeces at the oppressed. The ruling ANC went on to call on the DA to hold their leader accountable in the same way they hold ANC leaders to account4 even though the ANC did not discipline nor recall Sisa Ngombane5, our ambassador to Israel after he essentially supported Operation Protective Edge6 or the Gaza invasion in 2014.
The ANC is not the only one to come out in criticism of the DA’s visit to Israeli, the South African Palestinian embassy has also come out guns blazing against the DA. The Palestinian embassy’s first secretary, Hassona Aldramly, has made accusations that Maimane’s trip was taken as a response to the critical stance taken by the ANC government on Israel7, the first secretary also emphasised that his embassy had never been notified of the planned trip as is the practice of most politicians who plan to visit Palestine. Criticism has also come from South Africa’s Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) Campaign8, which has led a programme to boycott Israeli goods. The group has called on the DA to clearly state where it stands, whether it is with Israel (the oppressor) or with Palestine (oppressed) however nothing was said about the contract with the Israeli company to supply water cannons even though the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Policy of Israel was adopted as a formal policy of the ANC in 20129.
The DA responded to the accusations made against it by issuing a statement that stated that their leader not only went to Israel but that he also had scheduled a meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Mahmoud Abbas, which was unfortunately cancelled due to a conflict in the President’s diary. Maimane also met with senior representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian business community in order to discuss how trade could be used as an alternative should politics fail to end the conflict10. DA spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme also noted that the Palestinian embassy statement stated that “there was an instruction issued not to meet with the DA”, a statement being investigated by the party.
The DA, being a party that has long been facing accusations of representing white interests, has fueled those fires by visiting Israel and “having tea with the oppressor and snubbing the oppressed”. This has planted seeds that the DA will also choose the oppressor over the oppressed in South Africa; favour white over black because why else would the leader of a party that claims to have always placed human rights at the center of its international relations be visiting a country that is known for its poor track record in upholding human rights? Unless this leader was having tea with the oppressor in order to hear his side of the story and possibly show him the error of his ways. Another question raised by this visit is whether the DA’s foreign policy is mainly opposing the ANC and using its foreign weaknesses to win domestic votes? On the other hand this could be a sign that South Africa’s foreign policy could be in the hands of two sides that have different approaches should 2019 come with a coalition government at national level.
Ms Remofiloe Lobakeng holds a BA Hons in International Politics from UNISA and is a research assistant at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD
1 The conflict between Israel and Palestine that has been going on for decades. http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/20436092