South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice. The relationship between states dates back to the history of liberation movements.

Nelson Mandela hugs Helen Suzman, an elderly white woman

1990: Nelson Mandela hugs Helen Suzman, former anti-apartheid parliamentarian and descendant of Lithuanian Jews. Photo: John Parkin/ap/dpa

One of the controversial issues in the run-up to the upcoming May general elections in South Africa is the stance of all political parties on the issue of Israel. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations take place almost daily. The war between Hamas and Israel has a direct impact on South Africa.

Recently there was a shooting outside a Jewish primary school in Cape Town. The captain of the Zionist-oriented South African under-19 cricket team had to give up his armband. Last but not least, the African National Congress (ANC) took the State of Israel to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the first State to do so.

When the ANC, which rules today, created an armed branch in 1961, it followed the Zionist model.

The state of bilateral relations can also be assessed by the fact that there are currently no passenger flights between Israel and South Africa and that the South African diplomatic corps has been withdrawn from Tel Aviv.

The ANC, which has governed continuously since 1994, is very decisive in this regard. The party maintains an international network of former and current liberation organizations, which also includes the Palestinian cause. The ANC and the PLO have maintained a strategic alliance since the 1980s.

Mandela and Arafat

After Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, Yasser Arafat was one of the first people he spoke to. A little later, Mandela appeared at an international meeting wrapped in a Palestinian scarf, as did current President Cyril Ramaphosa last December.

But of course the way states behave towards each other is not essentially fixed, but has to do with the sovereignty of current discourse. Before the Six Day War in 1967, the ANC was certainly sympathetic to the Zionist liberation struggle against the British Empire, which previously included what are now Israel and South Africa within its sphere of influence.

In creating the armed branch of the ANC from 1961, Nelson Mandela was inspired by the paramilitary units of the Zionists, the Haganah and their elite Palmach force. Arthur Goldreich, born in Johannesburg and a member of the Palmach after the Second World War, had a significant influence on this exchange. On his return to South Africa, Goldreich acquired Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, with the support of the Communist Party.

Goldreich supports the ANC

That farm was established as a refuge for persecuted members of the ANC and became the planning center for their guerrilla activities. During a raid on Liliesleaf in 1963, the ANC's inner circle of leadership was exposed, including Jewish civil rights activist Denis Goldberg, responsible for the construction of explosive devices. Farm owner Goldreich fled to what is now Botswana disguised as a priest; The other ANC militants were put on trial in the so-called Rivonia Trial, along with Mandela, who had been arrested earlier.

Three of the ANC's defense lawyers at the Rivonia trial were Jewish, as was the prosecutor who demanded the death penalty for all defendants. After pressure from abroad and Mandela's four-hour defense speech (later published under the title “I am prepared to die”), the sentence was set at life imprisonment. Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, while Denis Goldberg was held in a white prison in Pretoria. Segregation also occurred behind prison walls.

For a long time, the attitude of the Israeli government towards the Pretoria regime was differentiated. Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir condemned “apartheid, colonialism and discrimination based on skin color or religion” at the UN General Assembly in New York in 1963. The Kibbutzim Movement Socialist orientation played an important role in the Jewish settlement of Palestine.

This collectivist form of self-government also influenced Israel's international positions until the Six-Day War in 1967. Only then did the state break with the Eastern bloc and turn westward. With this decision, solidarity with African liberation movements, which often followed a communist impulse, was largely left in the past. However, individual actions repeatedly deviated from this official line.

Gandhi's “Tolstoy” farm near Johannesburg

At the turn of the century, many Jews from Tsarist Lithuania fled to South Africa to escape the pogroms, including the architect Hermann Kallenbach, who, together with Mahatma Gandhi, founded the “Tolstoy” farm near Johannesburg in 1910 to practice a life of simplicity. and equality.

After 1933, the Nazi regime's Nuremberg Laws brought numerous Jewish refugees to South Africa just as Afrikaner nationalism in the country was beginning to sympathize with Hitler's fascism. The last refugee ship to arrive in Cape Town in 1936 was the steamship “Stuttgart” with more than 500 German Jews on board, greeted by an anti-Semitic protest demonstration. The South African government then established a quota for Jewish refugees and immediately declared it exhausted.

In the emerging Cold War, a diffuse identification between Israel and white South Africa increased. The beginning of institutionalized apartheid coincided exactly with the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948. South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to recognize Israel. The shared feeling of being surrounded led to close coordination between the military and the intelligence services.

The last boycott of Israel over apartheid

In 1976, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his South African counterpart, BJ Vorster, sealed “common ideals.” And when a U.S. surveillance satellite recorded two brief flashes of light over the South Atlantic in 1979, it was unclear (and subsequently remained unclear) which of the two countries had conducted a nuclear test here. Israel did not join the international boycott against the South African government due to the apartheid policy until 1987.

Although the National Party, which governed from 1948 to 1994, was fundamentally anti-Semitic, Jews were considered “white” according to apartheid South Africa's nomenclature. However, the shared experience of inequality led many of them to campaign for black rights and against the regime. Among them was the Nobel Prize winner Nadine Gordimer, who together with the photographer David Goldblatt published a report on the miserable working conditions in the gold mines.

South African Jewish lawyer Joe Slovo planned ANC armed actions from exile in London, including a bomb attack on the Johannesburg synagogue because he had invited Prime Minister Botha. Slovo's wife, Ruth First, a Jewish dissident in Mozambique, was assassinated by South African intelligence in 1982. Slovo himself later served as housing minister during Mandela's government.

And another example among many: the Jewish politician Helen Suzman was in the South African parliament in the 1960s and 1970s, as the only woman among 164 men and as the only member of the opposition Progressive Party. Her persistent demands on her government forced understanding of the system that would otherwise be subject to censorship. Responding to criticism that her investigative spirit was diminishing South Africa's international reputation, she responded: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is her answers.”

Pro-Palestinian faction

The historical gap between Israeli reasons of state and the deviant attitudes of Jewish individuals is also reflected in contemporary South Africa. The pro-Palestinian faction in South Africa includes respected visual artist William Kentridge, whose charcoal cartoons always tell the painful story of South Africa in relation to other unjust regimes. Kentridge, along with hundreds of other South African Jews, is one of the signatories of a note protesting the Gaza war.

Earlier this year, a “Shabbat against genocide” banner hung from a monument to Mandela in Greenpoint, the Jewish district of Cape Town. But not far from there, in front of South Africa's oldest synagogue and the Jewish museum, security guards have been deployed these days.

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