For Israel, the news from South Africa is seldom good. The ruling African National Congress never misses an opportunity to slam the Jewish state. 250 South African academics signed a letter calling for an “academic boycott” of Israel, including an end to exchanges with Israeli institutions and with individual Israeli academics. The University of Johannesburg soon ended its longstanding ties to Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Hamas members are welcome at ANC meetings. The BDS movement is flourishing. Diplomatic relations with the Jewish state have been downgraded since mid-2018, when South Africa’s last ambassador to Israel returned to Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela had many Jewish friends and supporters before and during his imprisonment, without whom he might never have succeeded. These personal ties were not enough to keep him from being a stout supporter of Yassir Arafat and the Palestinians, whom he believed only wanted, and deserved, a state of their own. Like so many others, he had no understanding of the ideology of Jihad.
The most harmful to Israel have been the comments of Desmond Tutu, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize and a tireless critic of Israel. In 2014 he delivered himself of some thoughts about Israel’s wickedness:
“I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces,” he said in a statement.
“Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.”
Observers in South Africa are preparing to mark “Israeli Apartheid Week” on [March 14, 2014]. Tutu, meanwhile, has declared his support for the use of boycotts and economic sanctions as a means to compel Israel to alter its policies.
“In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime,” he told News24.
“The same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the divestment movement trying to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory and the unfair and prejudicial treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them.”
Apartheid in Israel? Desmond Tutu must have overlooked the Palestinian Arabs who are members of the Knesset, who serve on the Supreme Court, who are senior members of the diplomatic corps, and who serve, if they wish, in the IDF, some of them becoming high-ranking officers. There is no apartheid in Israel.
As for the “occupation of Palestinian territory,” Tutu perhaps does not realize that there is no occupation in Gaza; no Israelis have been in Gaza since 2005. In the West Bank, Israel does not “occupy” Palestinian land. The West Bank – the name given by the Jordanians to those parts of Judea and Samaria they occupied from 1948 to 1967 — was assigned, according to the Mandate for Palestine, to be part of the territory included in the future Jewish National Home. One suspects that Desmond Tutu has never read the Mandate for Palestine, much less looked at its maps.
Desmond Tutu might also inform himself about Areas A, B, and C, in the West Bank. It is only in Area C that Israel has full control. The Palestinians who live in Area A have complete control over their lives; those in Area B have almost complete control over their lives, except in security matters where Israel and the Palestinians share authority. Only in Area C does Israel exercise complete control. 90% of the Palestinians in the West Bank – 2.8 out of a total of 3 million– live in Areas A and B. That, too, is something Tutu is unlikely to comprehend.
There is much more one could say about Desmond Tutu’s miscomprehension of Israel’s rights, including its right, under U.N. Resolution 242, to “secure and recognized boundaries,” which many believe entitle it to hold onto, at the very least, the Judean Heights and the Jordan Valley, as well as the Golan. But his mind is made up. Israelis are “white” (forget about the dark-skinned Indian, Ethiopian, and Arab Jews) and “Palestinians” are brown. Case, apparently, closed.
Now comes the welcome news that at least one high-ranking South African, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has praised Israel for its entrepreneurial hi-tech prowess.
The story is here:
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa lavished praise on Israel’s technology sector during a recent major economic policy address to women business leaders in Johannesburg, describing it as a model for his own country to follow.
When it came to growth and innovation, Israel was “leading by leaps and bounds,” Ramaphosa told the 2019 Presidential Dialogue of the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa on Oct. 29.
“They are innovative in a number of sectors in the economy — in agriculture, in maritime, in many other areas,” Ramaphosa said, in remarks that were also broadcast live on South Africa’s national television network.
“They have shown that they can lead, and we can learn a lot from what they do,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s comments about Israel came in response to an audience question from prominent venture capitalist Polo Leteka — the co-founder of IDF Capital, a South African-owned equity firm that invests in businesses owned by black women.
Leteka told Ramaphosa that Israel’s status as a global technology leader had been secured by the financial support of its government.
“It was the government of Israel who put up a challenge fund back in 1992 — it was essentially a matching fund that put millions of dollars into the private sector,” Leteka said. “That’s how the industry there has developed as it has.”
She continued: “We can do that here in this country, because we are not short of the capital.”
Ramaphosa responded to Leteka’s points enthusiastically, observing that the term “challenge fund” was “a very interesting nomenclature…it challenges the entrepreneurs themselves: ‘Come with plans and innovative ideas which we can fund, and then we can seed your business.’”
That approach, Ramaphosa concurred, was “in many ways what has gotten Israel to lead in the technology space.”
Famous for having flanked South Africa’s much-revered late former President Nelson Mandela in the iconic photograph of the latter’s release from prison in 1990, Ramaphosa was inaugurated as the country’s leader in May 2019.
In lauding Israel’s economic model, Ramaphosa — a billionaire businessman who began his career as a combative labor union leader during the struggle against apartheid — appeared to be distancing himself from the staunchly anti-Israel positions adopted by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC). The post of South African ambassador to Tel Aviv has been empty since April, following a Dec. 2017 decision at a special ANC conference — attended by leaders of the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas — to downgrade diplomatic relations with Israel.
With South Africa presently enduring a runaway unemployment rate of 29.1 percent compounded by slow economic growth, Ramaphosa has prioritized investment in the country’s economy. Over the last year, South African businesses have contributed $16 billion to an investment fund set up by Ramaphosa to finance new product lines and manufacturing centers around the country.
It’s both what Ramaphosa said and what he didn’t say that gives one hope. He recognized, and praised to the skies, Israel for being in the forefront of hi-tech. Here is a country so tiny that it is scarcely visible on maps, with a population of only eight million, that has to devote much of its time, money, and brainpower to securing the country from its mortal enemies, yet has managed in so many areas to achieve so much. Long ago, Israel became a world leader in agricultural technology, including drip irrigation, a leader, too, in wastewater management (some may remember Prime Minister Netanyahu making a public offer to help Iran with its water problems), and in the last decade, has become a world leader in drone technology, cybersecurity, robotics of all kinds –a tiny country that in hi-tech rivals even the United States and China. And every week brings news of another hugely successful Israeli start-up that has been bought by an American tech company, or is about to have its IPO.
Ramaphosa is impressed with all that Israel has managed to achieve in such a short time. Pola Leteka, a black female who has made millions as a venture capitalist, told Ramaphosa at the meeting that the Israeli government’s decision to give financial support to start-ups was key to its becoming a world leader in so many areas of technology. No doubt this was meant to suggest that the South African government should go and do likewise.
Here was a meeting at which the President of South Africa singled out Israel for praise. There was no talk of BDS, of an “occupation,” of Israeli “apartheid,” of cutting ties to Israeli universities, of the Palestinians and their supposed mistreatment at the hands of “wicked Israelis.”
One swallow does not make a spring, but Ramaphosa’s speech is a very good sign. He is, as the President of South Africa, the most powerful person in that country. His anti-apartheid record cannot be faulted. He has in the past agreed to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Ramat Gan to a liaison office in Tel Aviv – he could hardly have done otherwise, given the unanimous vote by the ANC to cut diplomatic ties with Israel. However, in mid-October, he surprisingly announced that the downgrading of the embassy would be “reconsidered” depending on whether there were “a genuine effort to improve the lot of the Palestinians.” If Israel’s technological prowess — not the remorseless cruelty of its enemies with their doctrine of Jihad, nor the righteousness of Israel’s cause, is what it takes to win friends and admirers in South Africa, then so be it. Bring on the drones. Bring on the robots. Bring on the Israeli advances in big data, IoT, smart transportation and mobility, artificial intelligence. For Israel, in the turbulence of South African politics, the motto should be: Any port in a storm. Things are looking up. If Cyril Ramaphosa has his druthers, can a renewal of diplomatic ties be far behind?
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