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South African Church pledges solidarity with Israel

“What was done by our government does not represent the people of South Africa,” says church leader Shembe.

Members of the South Africa-based Nazareth Baptist Church sign a declaration of friendship with Israel at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, May 12, 2024. Credit: Yossi Zamir.
Members of the South Africa-based Nazareth Baptist Church sign a declaration of friendship with Israel at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, May 12, 2024. Credit: Yossi Zamir.

The head of South Africa’s second-largest church visiting Israel in solidarity with the Jewish state said Sunday that the South African government is out of sync with the people in its stance on the war with Hamas by supporting a terror organization.

The unequivocal remarks by the South African religious leader against the ruling African National Congress come just weeks before general elections in South Africa, which has emerged as one of Israel’s most vocal critics in the world over the last seven months.

“We are here to give Israel support after what happened on October 7,” said Inkosi Shembe, the leader of the South African-based Nazareth Baptist Church which has some eight million followers and is of Zulu heritage. “We see that our government is silent about October 7.”

The 15-member delegation visited Israel for one week and toured the areas of southern Israel which came under attack in the Hamas massacre which killed 1,200 people, saw 250 others abducted and which triggered the Gaza war.

Last year, South Africa brought Israel to the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide, in a move condemned by Western countries led by the United States.

“We are here to declare that what was done by our government does not represent the people of South Africa,” Shembe at an event at Jerusalem’s Friends of Zion Museum. “Those leading South Africa are pushing an agenda supporting the Hamas terror organization.”

The South African religious leader said that ignorant people are being blinded by propaganda and lies that Israel practices apartheid.

“We are going back to South Africa to spread the truth of what we saw that there is no apartheid in Israel,” he said.

“It is so important to have this voice,” said Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotserkovsky, who is working out of Jerusalem in the wake of the crisis in relations between the two countries.  “It is a huge change.”

He noted that the South African government was leading the war against the very legitimacy of the State of Israel at a time when terror organizations sought Israel’s destruction.

“The haters of Israel are trying to disconnect the Jewish people from the Land of Israel,” said Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, former Jerusalem deputy mayor during the event where the group signed a declaration of friendship between South Africa and Israel.

“Your government has done the worst thing that could be done with their bogus claims that everything that was done to us is being done to the Palestinians.  The Government of South Africa has become the spokespeople of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the world.”

“The ANC is not South Africa,” said Bafana Modise, of South African Friends of Israel (SAFI), which partnered with an Israel-based non-profit, the Heartland Initiative, in organizing the trip.  “The people stand with Israel.”

The organizers of the event voiced the hope that it would help serve as a pivot to change Israeli-South African relations.

“Through this trip, we are opening up significant opportunities to activate a substantial portion of the South African population in support of Israel,” said Daniel Yakcobi, Director of SAFI.

“These grassroots efforts are crucial in shaping international perspectives and polices towards Israel,” added Gedaliah Blum, Director of the Heartland Initative.

“Our task is how we convert this support to something tangible to show the political leadership does not support the voice of the people,” Shembe said.

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