This article originally appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon, June 16, 2017. (http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/882/306.html)
The evil started in Durban. God willing it will end in Cape Town and Jerusalem. The 2001 Durban Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia that took place in Durban, South Africa, 16 years ago is still considered the opening shot in the intensifying global war to delegitimize Israel. It was at the United Nations-sponsored Durban Conference that Israel was defamed and charged with being the “new” apartheid South Africa.
Even prior to Durban, Israel’s Foreign Ministry categorized South Africa as one of Israel’s toughest diplomatic challenges on the face of the earth. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) was a close ally to former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. ANC and PLO forces trained together in the Soviet Union. The ANC has constantly reminded the world of Israel’s diplomatic and security relationship with the former apartheid regime.
The situation is no less complex for South African Jewry. While some South African Jews actively fought against apartheid policies and in favor of equality for South Africa’s black majority, the South African Jewish community has continually been identified as part of South Africa’s white and wealthy elite. In short, Jerusalem has long considered this dominant country on the African continent a lost cause for strong diplomatic relations.
Recently, however, there seems to be a new and unexpected breakthrough unfolding. Ambassador Dore Gold, President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, took steps to establish strong ties with post-apartheid South Africa during his recent tenure as Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Gold succeeded to “break the ice” with the South African government, securing a meeting with South Africa’s Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, considered a strident official with a firm anti-Israel orientation.
Gold noted, “She did not become one of Israel’s closest friends, but we established a diplomatic channel.” Gold added, “there is no other way to break pre-existing biases and stigmas other than pursuing constant efforts to engage counterparts in discussion.
Gold continued to break the ice this week at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which hosted a roundtable with black South Africans together with Israeli officials, experts and public opinion makers to discuss the Israel apartheid accusation along with strategies to defeat this libel.
In this spirit, Dan Diker, a Jerusalem Center Fellow and Director of its Program to Counter BDS and Political Warfare, has been researching the Israel apartheid libel for many months as part of a major research project and diplomatic counter-initiative to trigger change on the ground. Diker’s research led him to Luba and Cassandra Mayekiso, two staunchly pro-Israel and anti-BDS black South African Christians from Cape Town. Luba, Cassandra’s father, an attorney, is the Director of the South Africa office of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. His daughter is the first Christian to serve as the Zionist representative of the South African Union of Jewish Students.
With the active assistance and direction of the South African Jewish Federation and its director Wendy Kahn, Diker made an initial research trip in May 2016 and met with a number of black South African leaders, the Mayekisos among them, all of whom opposed the Israeli apartheid comparison and strongly supported Israel.
As part of his inquiries, Diker recorded fascinating meetings with black South African politicians, human rights activists, and former leaders of the BDS movement. African human rights activist Olga Meshoe said, “People are so determined to defame Israel because they think it’s the cool thing to do. In order to be a South African humanitarian activist at some stage you have to participate in the demonization of Israel.”
Mesoia Lekota, former defense minister, and senior ANC official, told Diker, “I tried to find a comparison between how we lived under the apartheid regime and the situation in Israel and I could not find one.” Rabalani Daghada, professor of information and technology, describes his conversations with Israeli-Arab academics in Israel. They told him, “Israel is not an apartheid state. There are no different laws for Jewish and Arab Israelis.”
Perhaps most importantly, Justice Nkomo, who served as a head of the BDS movement at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, then visited Israel and subsequently turned against the BDS movement and the apartheid libel. He said, “The BDS movement pays people money at the end of each month. It doesn’t really represent the interests of the Palestinian people, and it is characterized by hatred and anti-Semitism. It was acceptable for BDS activists on campus at Wits University to call for killing Jews.” These were just a few short examples of the Jerusalem Center’s anti-BDS video that will be broadcast on YouTube and actively targeted to South Africans.
Diker has been dedicated for years to exposing the true face of BDS. He initiated and edited a number of monographs that expose the security dangers and connections to radicalism, extremism, and terror of the BDS movement. He also supplies readers, particularly in English, with information based on legal justifications, among others, for the existence of Israel and its policies.
But Diker was most motivated to expose the lie of Israel as an apartheid state, in no small part, because of his own experience as a teenager in apartheid South Africa. As a former aspiring tennis player from the United States, he came to South Africa in the mid-1970s to train with the South African junior team and was shocked at the racist laws of the former apartheid regime. “I went to the water fountain and a young black man told me that the law prohibited him from drinking from the same water fountain. It took me some time to understand what he meant. When I finally realized, it shocked me to the core of my being.”
During Diker’s 1976 visit, the violent Soweto riots took place that claimed 1,000 black South African lives. “During that summer I understood what apartheid really was. It is a government-sanctioned system of racial superiority. Therefore, when I heard decades later that they’re twisting the apartheid accusation against Israel, it drove me crazy. I witnessed South African apartheid, there is nothing even faintly resembling that in pre-1967 Israel or in the territories. This is a baseless and radical accusation. Unfortunately, even some of Israel’s leaders such as former Prime Ministers Ehud Barack, Ehud Olmert, and others, have misused the term apartheid, which does tremendous damage to Israel’s very legitimacy as a free, democratic, and Jewish state. These leaders don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to apartheid,” Diker explained.
Armed with the determination to defeat the apartheid libel, Diker invited Luba and Cassandra Mayekiso from Cape Town to Jerusalem to expose the sharp differences between apartheid and life in Israel, and to screen the above-mentioned movie for the first time.
22-year-old Cassandra said that despite these difficulties, it’s possible for Israel to win the public diplomacy war in South Africa. According to her, the key is religion. “There are 55 million people in South Africa. 40 million of them are Christians who have no knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who believe in the Old Testament, and who want to hear primarily about Jewish religion. In their churches, they pray to “The God of Israel.” Because of their Christianity, they have a strong connection to Israel.
Cassandra continued, “It’s also important to show daily life in Israel, and the broad range of people of different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Rational, reasonable people will be influenced by the facts on the ground. The battle against BDS and the apartheid libel is not lost. We can win the war.”