CRL Chair questions constitutionality of possible SA Embassy downgrade

One of the considerations that will need to be taken, when the ANC International Relations Committee meets again at the elective conference, is whether the decision to downgrade the SA Embassy in Tel Aviv, is in fact constitutional. 

Speaking at a symposium last week, Ms Thoko Mkhwanazi Xaluva, Chairperson of the Cultural Religious and Linguistic Commission (CRL Commission), noted that were South Africa to downgrade its embassy in Israel it would unfairly impact on the ability of Africans Jews to practice and identify with their religious and cultural heritage. As such, it would probably be unconstitutional.

Prominent Jewish leader, Rabbi Dovid Hazdan, explained why a downgrading of the SA embassy would “have devastating and far-reaching impact on Jewish life in South Africa”.  He noted that Jews throughout the world were “inextricably bound to the Land of Israel”.  Rabbi Hazdan related how he had spent years in Israel studying for his Rabbinic ordination before returning to South Africa to practice as a religious leader and educator.  As in his case, Rabbi Hazdan said, Israel had been “the incubator, inspiration and source of instruction for Jewish Leadership in South Africa”.  His studies in Israel motivated him to return home to make a positive difference, for the Jewish community and for all of its people.

It would not only be Jews that would be negatively affected by a downgrade, said Apostle Linda Gobodo.  Christian pilgrimages to Israel bring the bible alive. A visit to the Holy Land, is the highest spiritual experience that any Bible-believing Christian could have.  Her organisation, Vuka Afrika, in common with other Christian organisations, arrange regular pilgrimages to Israel, and she herself was a regular visitor. A downgrade would jeopardise that, since Israel might retaliate and shut down its embassy in South Africa. Having to apply for a visa would have a devastating effect on SA Christians who visited Israel every week.

South African and Israel needed to consider an upgrade, rather than a downgrade, said Apostle Gobodo.  Agreeing with her, National Director of the SAJBD, Wendy Kahn cautioned that a possible downgrade would also make it impossible for South Africa to play a role in peace building in the region. This would be a tragedy, as South Africa’s experience of successfully negotiating a peaceful transition at home could be utilised in helping to peaceful resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The ANC, with its close relationship with the Palestinians, was also well placed to facilitate engagement if it could just build trust with the Israelis.  

Irrespective of the situation in the Middle East, Ms Xaluva spoke about the importance of creating social cohesion and a spirit of national unity.  In order to attain that, it was imperative that everyone felt that they belonged.  Ultimately, every decision of the ANC should fall within the Constitution.  No action should overtake the rights of people who live in our country. Otherwise we render the Constitution meaningless, she said. 

For more information please contact Charisse Zeifert on 082 427 2788 / Charisse@sajbd.org

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