Background Report South Africa Reacts More in Sorrow Than Anger to Israel Decision to Curtail Relati
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Background Report South Africa Reacts More in Sorrow Than Anger to Israel Decision to Curtail Relati

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Israel’s decision last month to curtail its relations with South Africa, including a halt to new military contracts, was greeted more in sorrow than anger here. Strong resentment was expressed against the United States which President P.W. Botha accused of “bullying” Israel into reducing ties with South Africa.

Editorial comment was generally along those lines. Understanding was expressed for Israel’s dependence on the United States for economic and military aid and even sympathy for its being in such an equivocal position.

Anti-Semitic backlash, most of it from anonymous quarters, was reported in the daily press. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies issued a careful statement, noting that Israel “takes decisions having regard to the necessity to protect its own sovereign national interests … In this regard it is noted that Israel has been subjected to significant pressures from the United States.”

The statement went on to reaffirm the Board of Deputies’ opposition to “sanctions and disinvestment on the ground that it undermines the ability to create conditions in which steps can be taken toward the achievement of an apartheid free and just society …”


Harry Schwarz, a Jewish member of Parliament for the opposition Progressive Federal Party (PFP) sent telegrams to Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel stating that he could understand the pressures being brought to bear, but that as a country itself subject to sanctions and boycotts it should appreciate that such measures were often counter-productive.

Another Jewish parliamentarian of the PFP, Helen Suzman, an outspoken foe of apartheid, told a Jewish women’s meeting here ??? reported in the press ??? that Israel had to make up its own mind in its own interest. “It is unlikely the position of Jews in South Africa would affect the mind of the Israeli government” in this matter, she said.

The newspaper, The Star, commented on March 20, two days after the Israeli decision was announced, that “the news that Israel is being coerced into the ‘enemy’ camp will be greeted more in sorrow than anger in South Africa where the realities of strong-arm international politics have been well understood of late.”

The paper cited Israel’s need to win back friends in Black Africa and the support at the United Nations on Palestinian issues. “Even the stoutest friends have left compelled to condemn apartheid. When the chips are down they are being asked to stand up and be counted ??? or suffer the consequences,” The Star said.

Die Vaderland of the same date stated editorially, “We notice with disappointment but also with understanding that Israel had to succumb to American pressure and side with the sanctions campaign… There is also understanding that Jerusalem didn’t want to sour its relationship with Washington any more after the Pollard spy incident.”


The Sunday Times observed that “The plight of Israel is not enviable. Unlike South Africa it is not a repository of vast mineral wealth: it is a poor country which relies heavily on the wit of its people, the quality of its industry and the generosity of its benefactors ??? primarily the United States. A decision to support sanctions was thus inevitable.”

The effects of Israel’s decision on the South African Jewish community was examined by Patrick Laurence writing in the Weekly Mail for March 20-26. He found South African Jews to be in “an awkward situation” caught between Pretoria and Jerusalem. According to the writer, “Anti-Semitism per se is no longer part of mainstream Afrikaner thinking. But when Israel adopts a belligerent stance to South Africa, hostility towards Jews can surface.”

Business Day reported that “Swastikas have been drawn on mail from SA to Israel and the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria has received telephone threats after Israel’s decision to impose limited sanctions. The Nazi symbols were drawn on several air mail packages mailed via Israel’s El Al airlines to private individuals … Telephone callers have cursed, shouted anti-Israel slogans and made threats to the Embassy in Pretoria for the past few days …”

Die Afrikaner reminded Israel on March 25 that “the Jewish community in South Africa is one of their largest benefactors” and that the South African government, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War “allowed hundreds of thousands of Rands to leave this country freely (for Israel) and that this still continues.”

President Botha, in a speech in Lichtenburg, reported in The Citizen on March 26, also indicated that billions of Rands in aid for Israel had been at stake when it made its decision. For the U.S. to apply pressure of this kind against Israel was nothing less than “bullying,” Botha was quoted as saying.

The newspaper Beeld said, “In the past the power of the Jewish vote in America was able to prevent pressure being brought to bear on Israel. These days American Jews like all other Americans are being caught up with great success against us. Luckily we as well as Israel already have well developed arms industries. A termination of military cooperation should therefore not be crippling to anyone. Cooperation in other areas will hopefully still continue.” S.E.D Brown, a a rightwing extremist known for his anti-Semitic views, wrote in the March 1987 issue of the South African Observer that “Thanks to Mr. P. W. Botha and his radical leftist revolutionaries, South Africa today is firmly on the road to the kind of ‘nonracial democracy’ for which every liberal, communist, Zionist and international financier has assiduously been working since the end of World War II … South Africans have yet to learn, and learn fast, firstly that Zionism is racism pure and simple and secondly, that wherever Western man happens to be he is in a racial war … with the forces of world Zionism, which tech not only their own ‘racial superiority’ but whose aim is control and dominion over all other races of mankind.”

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