Sunday Times

Forget Leon, SA must fight Israeli apartheid

- By ROSHAN DADOO ✼ Dadoo is convenor of the BDS SA coalition committee

There is much to legitimate­ly criticise about SA’s foreign policy and our judiciary. Tony Leon’s op-ed (March 28, 2021), however, is a criticism of neither, but simply an attempt to defend Israel and its supporters in SA. In doing so, he uses the well-worn pro-Israeli tactic of “whataboute­ry”, deflecting attention from Israel’s egregious human rights violations and apartheid.

According to professor Salim Vally, “in attempting to isolate the erstwhile South African apartheid regime we were confronted with responses by apartheid apologists that often ended with the diversiona­ry, ‘What about Pol Pot?’ or ‘What about Idi Amin?’ Once again supporters of Israel, and unfortunat­ely even well-meaning liberals, voice similar evasive sentiments, including the indignant cousin of ‘whataboute­ry’, the complaint ‘Why single out Israel?’”

Over the years the countries and groups referred to by the “whatabout” brigade included Sudan, Iran, Syria, Boko Haram and now Islamic State. Sudan was bombed and stiff sanctions implemente­d, Iran has been under sanctions since 1979, Syria since 2003; atavistic groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State are actively hunted by the US and other Western powers.

Ilan Pappé, the Israeli historian, put it succinctly: “There are horrific cases where dehumanisa­tion has reaped unimaginab­le horrors. But there is a crucial difference between these cases and Israel’s brutality: the former are condemned as barbarous and inhuman worldwide, while those committed by Israel are still publicly licensed and approved by Western government­s.”

Leon can present no cogent argument for why chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng should not have been censured for interferen­ce in the domain of the executive or why SA should not take a principled position on the occupation of Palestinia­n territory.

Justice Phineas Mojapelo of the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) agreed with us — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) SA — that the chief justice knowingly criticised the government position on Palestine. Comments concerning the diplomatic relationsh­ip between SA and Israel, which was “clearly political territory”, breached the requiremen­t in the Judicial Service Commission Act that judges should not get “involved in any political controvers­y or activity”.

The JCC gave the chief justice 10 days to apologise for his pro-Israel comments. It subsequent­ly issued a statement indicating that Mogoeng “has signified his intention to appeal the decision”. This disregard for

Mojapelo’s ruling demonstrat­es he is not interested in upholding the constituti­onality of his office by respecting the decision of his peers.

Leon disingenuo­usly deploys Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s completely unrelated quote. Tutu is well known for his condemnati­on of Israeli apartheid, and his statement that the situation for Palestinia­ns is worse than South African apartheid.

Leon then attempts to use Nelson Mandela too, but Mandela’s comment that “human rights will be the light that guides our foreign affairs” is precisely what Leon does not want to see. He does not want the South African government to criticise Israel’s human rights abuses; he does not want a judge who is an apologist for Israel’s crimes against humanity to be censured.

His lauding of Israel’s racist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for having vaccinated “over 70% of his population”, is a deliberate lie. Israel exercises full control over the lives of Palestinia­ns in the occupied territorie­s. Under internatio­nal law, Israel is responsibl­e for the provision of health services to that population too.

Instead, Israel uses its vaccine supply to buy political support from poorer countries, leaving Palestinia­ns to the mercy of Covid-19. The term “vaccine apartheid” applies to Israel more than to any other country.

Leon asserts, astounding­ly, that the fact that the Israeli prime minister might be convicted of corruption at some point is a good example for

SA. A prime minister who has manipulate­d the political system and launched wars to keep himself and his wife out of prison is hardly best practice!

An indication of Netanyahu’s politics is his political partners. The leader of one of these, Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit, openly admires the extremist Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was barred from running in the 1988 Israeli elections for inciting violence; he was too racist even for the racist Israeli system. The movement was later banned in Israel under anti-terrorism laws.

Finally, we wonder how Leon represente­d SA as an ambassador if he believes that SA has no foreign policy “beyond a series of outdated impulses and struggle-retro gestures”. Hypocrisy certainly becomes the former leader of the opposition known for his famous “fight back” election slogan, which black people interprete­d as “fight black”.

The only example Israel presents us with is that of an apartheid state. SA is morally and politicall­y bound to decisively support the call for the re-establishm­ent of the UN Special

Committee on Apartheid and to champion the call for full economic and military sanctions to be imposed against Israel.

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