JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (JTA) — Israel’s envoy to South Africa said the country’s recent bias against Israel is not helping to advance peace in the Mideast.
“It is disappointing that the last few months have seen a disturbing and growing tendency by South Africa aligning itself with those critical of Israel,” Dov Segev-Steinberg told about 1,000 delegates attending a meeting of the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies, the country’s Jewish umbrella organization. “[It] does little to advance the cause of peace nor South Africa’s contribution towards it.”
Paul Mashatile, the South African deputy minister of arts and culture and Gauteng provincial chairman of the ruling African National Congress, was in the audience.
The marked deterioration between Israel and South Africa began following Israel’s interception of a Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla at the end of May. South Africa blamed Israel for the death of nine activists.
South Africa issued a demarche against Israel, an exceptionally strong diplomatic condemnation, followed by the temporary withdrawal of its ambassador to Israel — something no other country did, not even Turkey.
A period of difficulty during the Gaza war at the beginning of 2009 had not disturbed the policy of "pragmatic engagement" between the two countries that included cultural and economic programs and exchanges.
Steinberg said he had hoped for relations between the two countries to improve when he began his term of office two years ago, “but this has not been fulfilled.”
Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee, in his keynote address said the Middle East conflict had not evolved out of religion but was a territorial dispute. Rosen said, however, that it was now being “religionized,” calling the conflict “a war of the godly and goodly against evil and the godless."
Other speakers included Eliseo Neuman, director of the Africa Institute of the American Jewish Committee, and Zev Krengel, national chairman of the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies.