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Is South Africa’s ambassador to Israel a victim of state capture?

South Africa's Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane (L) at a press conference with Leigh-Ann Naidoo of the Women's Boat to Gaza
South Africa's Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane (L) at a press conference with Leigh-Ann Naidoo of the Women's Boat to Gaza

Israel’s war of terror against the Palestinians and their land is an unrelenting act of aggression and hostility. That it is ongoing after seven decades, and that the brutality is clearly visible across global media, one wonders why its ability to act with such impunity persists.

Many reasons have been advanced in this regard. Some talk of the power and leverage of Israel’s lobby in various western capitals, particularly Washington. Studies undertaken by analysts, many of which are authored and published by highly respected academics, bring this discourse to the fore.

One of the best known studies is The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The authors are John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Published in late August 2007, it was a New York Times Best Seller.

It portrays the lobby as a “loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction”. Importantly, the book “focuses primarily on the lobby’s influence on US foreign policy and its negative effect on American interests.”

In explaining the lobby’s makeup, Mearsheimer and Walt note that although “the bulk of the lobby is comprised of Jewish Americans“, there are many American Jews who are not part of the lobby, and it also includes Christian Zionists overlapping right-wingers and neoconservatives.

If, as Mearsheimer and Walt conclude, US foreign policy is influenced heavily by the pro-Israel lobby, in light of current debates in South Africa about “state capture”, we can conclude safely that Washington is a victim of the same. Such leverage may exist in America and the western world, but is it operational in Africa and, in particular, South Africa?

VIDEO: South Africa’s Ambassador to Israel blames Palestinians for the attacks wrought on Gaza in 2014

Hot on the heels of the Women’s Boat to Gaza saga, Johannesburg witnessed a bizarre display of overt pro-Israeli bias by South Africa’s ambassador to Israel. It reignited the debate about whether, in the context of “state capture”, Ambassador Sisa Ngombane has been taken by Israel.

The play on the word “capture” is ironic because of the illegal boarding and capture of the all women crew on the Zeytouna. They were intercepted by Israel’s military and naval forces in international waters off the coast of Gaza.

Following an outcry, parliament’s portfolio committee on foreign affairs has called for a probe into Ngombane’s stance. Importantly, Deputy Minister of International Relations Luwellyn Landers has gone further by calling for him to be recalled. While making a valid argument against Ngombane misrepresenting our country’s official policy on Palestine, Landers’ presence at the funeral of Shimon Peres actually demonstrated how the Zuma administration in Pretoria is sending out conflicting signals.

If indeed Ngombane is a victim of Israeli state capture, is it not necessary to probe how widespread the rot may be? And beyond this, is there not also a need to investigate how diplomatic ties with Israel have damaged and undermined South Africa’s declared support for Palestinian rights?

The recent spat between the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Saeb Erakat and the leader of South Africa’s African Christian Democratic Party, Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, over the latter’s recent visit to Israel sheds light on the damage I refer to. That visit and his party’s position on Israel is no different to that of the right-wing Zionists. The argument Meshoe made to counter Erakat implies that diplomatic relations between Pretoria and Tel Aviv condones such visits.

In other words, his message to the Palestinians is that his visit was an exercise of freedom of association and movement, protected constitutionally and underpinned by the bill of rights. To simplify it further, it means that as long as the ANC-led government enjoys these ties, friends of Israel will have no difficulty in travelling there and being willing stooges in selling its apartheid policies.

So whether you have an ANC cadre deployed in Israel, or an opposition leader going there, expect Israeli propagandists to do their work: state capture.

The blame for this lies squarely at the feet of Mahmood Abbas who, as the head of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, is himself a victim of Israeli state capture. Satisfied to be in the position of a Bantustan chief, his failure to invoke a comprehensive boycott campaign has allowed governments such as South Africa’s to stick to the twisted logic that having diplomatic relations with Israel is somehow a form of solidarity with Palestine. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

The writer is an executive member of the Media Review Network, Johannesburg

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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AfricaArticleIsraelMiddle EastOpinion
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