‘I’D BE TER­RI­FIED IN Gaza’

Is­raeli am­bas­sador Arthur Lenk has been dodg­ing ver­bal mis­siles in SA while try­ing to jus­tify his coun­try’s at­tacks on Gaza. He didn’t cower when Janet Heard fired off a few more

CityPress - - News -

Q: But ...? City Press: How has your re­la­tion­ship with the SA govern­ment shifted since your ar­rival in Au­gust 2013?

Lenk: There has been no shift. I be­lieved then and now that Is­rael and SA have lots to learn from each other. Re­cent events only make that point stronger. I am here to do a job. I am blessed to be able to do that job, to tell our story in a coun­try like South Africa.

Q: Are you feel­ing the pres­sure?

A: I don’t know about pres­sure. The peo­ple who are un­der pres­sure are the Is­raeli cit­i­zens, who over the past months and years have been un­der threat of Ha­mas rock­ets. The peo­ple who are un­der pres­sure are the par­ents whose teenage sons and daugh­ters go into the army to fight against Ha­mas to keep us safe.

Q: Are you re­ceiv­ing fewer so­cial in­vites and feel­ing more iso­lated?

A: I know peo­ple and peo­ple know me. A real pos­i­tive is that I think there is ap­pre­ci­a­tion on both sides, an un­der­stand­ing. We don’t agree on ev­ery is­sue. There is room to learn from each other. I say this with a smile – and apol­o­gise if it is diplos­peak – but it is true.

Q: How do you re­spond to re­cent calls within the ANC and oth­ers for a boy­cott of Is­rael and your ex­pul­sion?

A: The truth is I don’t think there is an in­creas­ing call. The re­al­ity is that SA is en­gaged with us. The Pres­i­dent[ Ja­cob Zuma] has spo­ken re­peat­edly on the is­sue, the for­eign min­is­ter has spo­ken on this is­sue, and oth­ers. Also, a del­e­ga­tion went to [the Mid­dle East]. They met the Is­raeli deputy min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs and pre­sented a let­ter from Ja­cob Zuma, and they had a di­a­logue. My un­der­stand­ing is that they are go­ing to go back to con­tinue their work.

A: I don’t think there is a but. South Africans and Is­raelis agree more than we dis­agree about the way for­ward for Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis. They are pro­mot­ing the idea of a cease-fire, which Is­rael has agreed to, and sup­port­ing di­a­logue be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans for a two-state so­lu­tion. There is a small lobby that thinks SA pol­icy needs to be dif­fer­ent and that is fine, that is democ­racy. But the ma­jor­ity dis­agree with that po­si­tion.

Q: How do you jus­tify the at­tack on a UN school?

A: We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing and try­ing to get to the bot­tom of it. It is clear that schools and mosques and churches and homes have been badly abused by Ha­mas in an un­prece­dented way. That story needs to be told too.

Q: But how can Is­rael jus­tify such an at­tack?

A: We are in­ves­ti­gat­ing. We are go­ing to get to the truth.

Q: If your chil­dren were liv­ing in Gaza now, how would you feel?

A: I would be ter­ri­fied, ab­so­lutely. I would de­mand, if I could, that Ha­mas get away from me and my chil­dren. Ha­mas uses schools to hide weapons and tells chil­dren to stay in homes when Is­rael tells them to clear out. Ha­mas is teach­ing kids their lives don’t mat­ter, that the aims of Ha­mas are big­ger. If I was a par­ent, I would be ter­ri­fied of Is­rael too, I must be hon­est. But 10 years ago, as a par­ent with three small kids in Is­rael, when Pales­tinian ter­ror­ists were blow­ing up school buses and cof­fee shops and cam­puses, that was ter­ri­fy­ing.

Q: What is your re­sponse to South Africans who lived through apartheid and say they iden­tify with the Pales­tinian strug­gle?

A: I am okay with that. Pales­tini­ans need good friends. But real friends tell their friends the truth. This idea of ni­hilism within Ha­mas is not what the ANC is about. You can be pro-Pales­tinian, but don’t ex­clude the idea that South Africans can have a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael too.

Q: Do you think Is­raelis as a mi­nor­ity have an affin­ity with Afrikan­ers?

A: Our story is dif­fer­ent. At the risk of sound­ing like a sound bite, in SA you needed to get mar­ried; in the Mid­dle East we need to get di­vorced, to be neigh­bours, to have two states, like what hap­pened in Cze­choslo­vakia. Di­vorce isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

Q: Some have likened Is­rael’s pol­icy to the Pales­tini­ans with apartheid. What is your re­sponse?

A: That would be a mas­sive mis­un­der­stand­ing of Is­rael and in­sult­ing to the peo­ple who lived through the strug­gle in SA. In Is­rael, [sep­a­ra­tion] has been based on se­cu­rity. In SA, it was based on race and colour. I wish se­cu­rity mea­sures were not needed. I would rather spend tax money on health­care and ed­u­ca­tion, but for now we have to keep our peo­ple safe. Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis both de­serve bet­ter.

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