CAPE TOWN, Oct. 25 (JTA) — A Jewish member of South Africa’s Cabinet is blaming Israeli policies for the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
“The fundamental cause of the conflict is Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the suppression of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination,” said the nation’s water affairs minister, Ronnie Kasrils, who also equated Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians with South Africa’s era of apartheid.
Kasrils’ stand is being seen by some political observers as a possible hardening of the government’s self-proclaimed “carefully balanced” position on the Middle East.
The ruling African National Congress has had close ties with Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization since the days of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.
The only Jewish Cabinet minister, Kasrils was addressing Parliament on Tuesday on behalf of the ANC in a debate about a report by a multi-party South African fact-finding mission that visited the Middle East in July. The report was severely critical of Israel.
The South African government does not dispute that sectors of the Palestinian people resort to terror, and “we condemn indiscriminate killings of civilians from whatever quarter,” he said.
“Yet this is not the root cause of the ongoing violence.”
Kasrils also said recognition of the fundamental causes of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence does not constitute anti-Semitism, not does it amount to a denial of Israel’s right to exist.
After the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis, he said he was appalled at the “ruthless security methods” used by Israel against Palestinians, including “bulldozers, machine guns, tanks and helicopter gunships,” as well as the “targeted assassination of opponents.”
“These intolerable strategies, together with the growing number of provocative Jewish settlements in the West Bank, undermine the legitimacy of the Israeli government and its negotiating position and give rise to intensified resistance.”
Kasrils urged fellow South African Jews to join the ANC campaign to support “justice for Palestine” and seek peace and security for everyone in the Middle East.
Russell Gaddin, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, criticized Kasrils’ statements.
Gaddin said he believes Kasrils is not properly informed about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was using his Jewish background to add credibility to the pro-Palestinian stance of the ANC.
Gaddin said the Board, like Jews all over the world, wants a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he pointed out that it was not Israel that is committing acts of terror.
Contrary to claims of “excessive force” being leveled at the Israelis, all Israeli actions had to be seen either as defensive or as responses to previous attacks by the Palestinians, Gaddin said.
A day before the debate was held in Parliament, the Board circulated a letter to all legislators that was critical of the government’s stance toward Israel.
“The past few months have witnessed a number of disturbing developments, which have seriously undermined the confidence of South African Jewry in the future of the country and of their place within it,” the letter said.
The Board urged legislators to distance themselves from “biased and unfair” comments against Israel and asked them to enforce the constitutional provisions outlawing hate speech.
It also criticized the Communist Party, a governing partner of the ruling ANC, for recent comments alleging that South Africa’s Jewish community is engaged in “financially assisting the Israeli government to suppress Palestinian people.”
Dean Smuts, spokesperson for the Democratic Party — whose head, opposition leader Tony Leon, is Jewish — said the fact-finding report was skewed toward the “standard pro-Palestinian” position.
Smuts said the report contained “the ususal charge sheet of infringement of human rights by Israel, while omitting any serious treatment of the lynchings and suicide bombings which prompt the closures, curfews and restrictions in the first place.”
The report used the word “terrorism” in quotes.
“This is obscene and we will not lend our name to such a thing,” Smuts said.
“The taking of innocent life is forbidden in all three of our Abrahamic religions, and there is no difference between doing so in Manhattan or in a Jerusalem pizzeria or a Tel Aviv discotheque.”