No upside to an Embassy downgrade in Israel - SAJBD

Wendy Kahn says such a move would negatively affect a large and diverse constituency

SAJBD says no upside to an Embassy downgrade in Israel

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) notes the 54th National Conference Report & Resolutions, under the theme, Remember Oliver Tambo: Towards Unity, Renewal and Radical socio-economic transformation. The SAJBD is firmly supportive of the ruling party’s efforts and commitment to improve the lives of all South Africans and make meaningful its promises to improve economic growth and meaningfully address inequality and unemployment.

We however, once again, strongly advise the Government against a resolution to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel. Such a move would negatively affect a large and diverse constituency. Since the initial announcement the outcry from a range of inter-faith communities, civil societies and Jewish interest groups has been astounding. We all realise that a downgrade is a punitive measure that will, in no way impact on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and will in way brings the two parties closer to a sustainable peace. But it will instead negatively affect our own South African citizens. A downgrade would be contrary to the ANC’s renewed commitment to nation-building and the optimism of President Cyril Ramaphosa ‘New Dawn’, as it would be sending a clear message that the citizens of a foreign country are more important than your own.

Indeed, as the Chairperson of the CRL Commission Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, said, the downgrade would “unfairly impact on the ability of SA Jews to practice and identify with their religious and cultural heritage and as such it would probably be unconstitutional. She is correct in believing that “no action should overtake the rights of people who live in the country. Otherwise, we render the constitution meaningless.” Additionally, many in the Christian community will be impacted in terms of their connection with Israel, and the downgrade is going to affect pilgrimages, a religious right for millions of SA Christians.

The decision to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel is hypocritical as it is inconsistent with the ways in which the ANC seeks to engage with other countries. Practically, it would also affect South Africa’s trade, cultural, educational and economic growth. There is no upside to a downgrade.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible, and South Africa has a role to play in bringing this about. South Africa had in the past sent its envoys to the region to find solutions. As South Africans, we can also play a role in sharing our own lessons of dialogue and negotiations that were pivotal in our successful transition into an inclusive democratic society. The ANC, with its close historical relationship with the Palestinians needs to gain the trust of the Israeli’s and this would allow an ANC government to facilitate dialogue between the two sides. A downgrade would preclude the ANC from doing this, especially at the present moment, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in desperate need of a credible peace-broker. 

 The SAJBD, therefore, calls on the ANC, in the interests of pursuing a society based on equality and freedom of association, to consider moving towards a more meaningful role in finding peace. We remain committed in engaging and working with the ANC in finally realising a framework for negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Statement issued by Wendy Kahn, South African Jewish Board of Deputies, 27 March 2018