Cape Town – In accepting an award from the so-called “state of Palestine”, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, paid minimal lip service to South Africa’s official support of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but laid the entire blame at Israel’s feet. She’s now espousing the notion of “Jewish domination” in the region.
“Successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat and imposed measures to control and decrease their presence and access to land in Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory],” said Pandor in her acceptance speech at Freedom Park, Pretoria, on 2 December. “These demographic aims are well illustrated by official plans to ‘Judaize’ areas of Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which continue to put thousands of Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer.
“According to the report of new United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the OPT issued on 7 June, the continued occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory and discrimination against Palestinians are the key root causes of the recurrent tensions, instability, and protraction of conflict in the region,” she said.
“The question of Palestine remains unresolved after 70 years,” she said, referring to the entirety of Israel’s existence.
“It’s simply shocking that South Africa’s top diplomat could spout such utterly ahistorical and amoral nonsense as she did in this abhorrent speech,” commentator Avi Mayer told the SA Jewish Report. Mayer has held leadership roles in some of the world’s leading Jewish organisations, such as the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
“Absent from her remarks was any pretence of balance, [or] any suggestion of Palestinian responsibility for the current state of affairs,” he said. “There was no mention of Palestinian terror, no reference to the vicious antisemitism and incitement to violence that courses through the Palestinian education system, the Palestinian news media, and Palestinian religious institutions.”
Moreover, “the notion that Israel needs to ‘Judaize’ land that constitutes the cradle of Jewish civilization isn’t just offensive, but smacks of an attempt to deny the Jewish connection to the land and thus undermine Israel’s very right to exist”.
Visiting professor and research fellow in the department of political studies and governance at the University of the Free State and research fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Gulf Studies at the University of Haifa, Glen Segall, said, “Such language takes South Africa out of the impartial negotiator position and shows extremist characteristics and behaviour.” Local political analyst Steven Gruzd agrees that the terms used “try to deny the Jewish connection to the land”.
South African Zionist Federation National Chairperson Rowan Polovin says, “Minister Pandor continues to ride her hobby horse of exclusive obsession over Israel while wilfully ignoring terrible atrocities occurring around the world. She pays lip service to talk about peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, but fails to condemn one single rocket attack by Palestinians against Israeli women and children, the recent bus bombing in Jerusalem, or terror attacks against Israeli civilians over the past year.
“Her anti-Israel attitude blinds her to seeing Israelis as legitimate people with legitimate needs and security concerns,” he says. “As a result of Pandor’s position, which reflects that of the ruling party and the South African government, our country sadly remains irrelevant in international affairs and isn’t taken seriously by the West.”
South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) National Chairperson Professor Karen Milner says, “Much of this speech is the usual uncritical rehash of standard anti-Israel propaganda canards. That being said, Pandor at least puts some stress on the need for a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict. This is something the SAJBD has consistently called on our government to help make a reality, and South Africa’s own history of conflict resolution through peaceful dialogue means that it’s well placed to play such a role. So long as our government refuses to engage with one of the parties to the conflict, however, this obviously cannot happen”.
However, the Institute of Race Relations’ Sara Gon says, “For Pandor, Israel only is at fault and the Palestinians are only its victims. Pandor is in the same position of everybody who supports the Palestinians but hates Israel: no mention is made of the Palestinian Authority’s role in the ghastly state of the West Bank and Gaza; peace must be attained but no demands are made on anybody or any state other than Israel to make peace. It’s Israel and Israel alone which must do the heavy lifting. Thus, nothing will change.
“There’s no point in engaging with Pandor on Israel. In reality, she has no intention of playing any part in resolving the conflict.”
Pandor’s theory of Jewish domination in the region echoes Amnesty International’s accusations that the state of Israel “considers and treats Palestinians as an inferior, non-Jewish racial group” and “since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximising its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis”. These comments were made in a report in February 2022. They were widely deemed antisemitic.
A joint statement by several Jewish groups in the United States, including the Anti-Defamation League, said Amnesty’s document “fuels those antisemites around the world who seek to undermine the only Jewish country on earth, while simultaneously cheapening and downplaying the horrific suffering that was a result of apartheid in South Africa”.
Pandor also said, “The Palestinian struggle evokes memories of our own anti-apartheid struggle against racial segregation and oppression.” In addition, she expressed support for the Amnesty International report.
At the same time, she said, “We’ll continue to support the achievement of a two-state solution, with a viable, contiguous Palestinian state existing side-by-side in peace with Israel within the internationally recognised 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in line with all relevant UN resolutions, and international law. A viable and sustainable peace plan for the Middle East must ensure that Palestine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and economic viability is guaranteed, with sovereign equality between Palestine and Israel.”
Notes Gruzd, “Even when talking about a two-state solution, it’s not stated that one of those states should be a Jewish state.”
In only one sentence did Pandor acknowledge that it will take both Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the conflict, saying, “As South Africans, we believe that as intractable as this conflict may seem, peace is possible. If all sides are prepared to find solutions to the thorny final-status issues and engage in honest mediation without outside interference, both Israelis and Palestinians can live in two viable independent states, in security and prosperity. None of us can afford to give up on this end game, as until this is accomplished, the region will be mired in instability and conflict.”
Mayer believes that “peace will come only when both nations’ legitimate rights are addressed by reasonable leaders on both sides, supported by fair actors in the international community. Sadly, such absurdly lopsided views as those espoused by Minister Pandor render South Africa irrelevant to any efforts to resolve the conflict”.