South African Jewish community leaders have expressed disappointment at statements issued by the African National Congress Youth League, which recently returned from an official visit to Israel at the invitation of the South African Union of Jewish Students.
The Youth League urged ANC president Nelson Mandela not to visit Israel until there was further progress in the peace talks.
The ANC delegation lauded Israel’s achievements in developing the country, but noted that “this splendid and commendable fact of human determination to prosperity and growth is denied its full space of further development and its right to exposure by the Israeli government’s policy of oppression of the Palestinian people.”
Reacting to the ANC comments in a joint statement, Mervyn Smith, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, and Abe Abrahamson, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, said the remarks were harsh and one-sided.
“No recognition is given to Israel for being the only democracy in the Middle East,” said Smith and Abrahamson.
They also pointed out that Israel is “actively committed to pursuing peace. The sentiments expressed are negative and do not recognize the complexities of the current Middle East situation.”
The ANC delegation met with Israeli officials, visited industrial and agricultural projects and spoke with educators and intellectuals.
The trip was seen as part of a growing effort by Israel to improve its relations with South Africa’s black majority and to the ANC, which has traditionally had close ties with Palestinian organizations.
South Africa’s Jewish community has also been active in promoting good relations between itself and the ANC. Last month, leading Jewish businessmen held private talks with top ANC officials on the economic situation in South Africa.