newsIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Hamas delegation in South Africa for Palestinian solidarity event

“The population is generally supportive of Israel but intimidated by a loud radicalized Muslim community.”

"Israeli Apartheid Week" in Hartebeestpoort, South Africa. Source: Facebook.
"Israeli Apartheid Week" in Hartebeestpoort, South Africa. Source: Facebook.

A senior Hamas delegation arrived in South Africa to participate in the Fifth Global Convention of Solidarity with Palestine.

The delegation includes politburo member Bassem Naim, Hamas representative in Iran Khaled Qaddoumi and Hamas representative in East, Central and Southern Africa Emad Saber. The delegation will meet representatives of political parties, civil society groups and the Palestine solidarity movement.

It was not clear where in the country the event would be held, but it is scheduled to take place on Dec. 2-5.

South Africa is one of few countries that is not only sympathetic to the Palestinian cause despite officially advocating for a two-state solution, but recognizes Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Last week, the National Assembly, South Africa’s parliament, voted 248–91 to close the Israel embassy and suspend diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. While the resolution is nonbinding, it has sent a chilling message to South African Jews.

The resolution was proposed by populist Economic Freedom Front (EFF) leader Julius Malema, who has engaged in inflammatory rhetoric against Israel in recent weeks including accusing the Cape Town Jewish school, Herzlia High, of being “a feeder school for the IDF.”

Professor Karen Milner, the national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said the debate in the National Assembly “was a pointless exercise because parliament does not determine the international relations of South Africa. It is especially pointless, given Israel’s decision to withdraw its ambassador for consultation.

“The jeers of EFF and ANC singing, ‘from the river to the sea,’ a chant which calls for the destruction of the only Jewish state, makes a mockery of the ANC’s stated position of supporting a two-state solution.”

Pretoria also summoned its remaining diplomats in Israel to return home. There has not been an envoy to Israel since 2018.

South Africa has taken a resolutely pro-Palestinian stance. The government failed to condemn the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7, instead alleging that the “continued illegal occupation of Palestine land, continued settlement expansion, desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque and Christian holy sites, and ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people” resulted in “a devastating escalation.”

Revolutionary attachments

Howard Sackstein, founder of the Jewish Anti-Apartheid movement and chairperson of the South African Jewish Report, told JNS: “South Africa’s foreign policy is stuck in the 1960s Cold War with deep ideological revolutionary attachments to the oppressive regimes of Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and Palestine. Although claiming to support a two-state solution, for the South African government, Israel is a colonial manifestation of Western imperialism.”

Since the Oct. 7 atrocities and in light of the South African government’s growing alliance with Hamas, the country’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, has been increasingly critical. The rabbi changed the wording of the weekly prayer for the protection of the government of South Africa to read for the protection of the people of South Africa.

In recent weeks in a variety of YouTube addresses, Goldstein has accused the government of being “Iran’s useful idiots,” and this week he said that President Cyril Ramaphosa “promotes global antisemitism.”

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has been captured by a small group of jihadists. The minister of foreign affairs, Naledi Pandor, a convert to Islam, and her radical director-general, Zane Dangor, whose sister accused Israel of wanting to drive black people out of Africa into the sea, have used and abused their positions to propagate an Islamic agenda and weave it into a cornerstone of South African foreign policy.

Hamas claimed that Pandor called to congratulate it on the success of their murderous assault on Israel on Oct. 7. Pandor said this was not the reason for her call, a call whose existence DIRCO denied until the denial became impossible to sustain. No call was made to the Israeli government to offer condolences. DIRCO recently referred to Israeli civilians murdered in communities near the Gaza Strip as “settlers.”

Incalculable failures

South Africa has a substantial array of domestic challenges and many believe that focusing on Israel’s war with Hamas proves a convenient distraction.

Rowan Polovin, the chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), opined: “Amidst the incalculable failures of the ANC’s rule in South Africa—including 4.8 million starving children, world-record unemployment, daily electricity cuts, dysfunctional state-owned enterprises, widespread looting, corruption and lack of water and sanitation to millions—parliament saw fit to deflect attention from domestic issues and focus energies on Israel.

“The parliamentary resolution is a travesty and does significant damage to South Africa’s reputation and international standing. We call on the South African government to ignore this vile resolution and refocus its attention on resolving South Africa’s domestic challenges.”

Polovin thanked the millions of South Africans who support Israel.

Pretoria has also written to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking it to issue arrest warrants for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF brass on charges of war crimes as well as to formally declare Israel an apartheid state.

South Africa’s stance has angered the Jewish community as well as many in the opposition parties and private sector who are concerned about the impact on the country’s international standing and economy.

Sackstein told JNS, “Ramaphosa, who presides over a failing state and collapsing economy, refers to Gaza as a concentration camp. The vote in parliament is merely a manifestation of a radical popularism competition between [members of] a tiny elite who are trying to outdo each other in their opposition to Israel.

“The South African population is generally supportive of Israel but intimidated by a loud, radicalized Muslim community who believe their shouts can drown out the screams of those their friends butchered. For Israel, the potential closing of an Israeli embassy in Pretoria is of little consequence,” he said.

“South Africa is an irrelevant, distant failing state of minor influence. The South African Jewish community, however, will take this as a major slap in the face. The president has failed to meet with the Jewish community despite their request. The current president, whose personal fortune was created on the backs of many Jewish entrepreneurs and whose internal election campaign was supported by many in the Jewish community, has betrayed some of his closest allies and alienated the entire Jewish community. For him, the war in Gaza is a welcome distraction from dealing with his mounting problems and collapsing support at home,” Sackstein said.

As South Africa approaches an election year, it remains to be seen how much of a factor the country’s international standing and deepening alliances with pariah states will influence voters. The Jewish community remains vigilant—and vulnerable.

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