Ambassador tries to change perceptions in S. Africa


JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 6 (JTA) – Israel’s new ambassador to South Africa faces a difficult task: convincing a government sympathetic to the Palestinian cause that the picture in the Middle East is complex.

Ambassador Tova Herzl said last week at a lunch hosted by the South African Zionist Federation in Johannesburg, that she wants “to show the new elite in this country that the picture in the Middle East is not one-sided.

“I would like them to realize things are not black and white – there are shades in the middle,” Herzl said at the lunch, which introduced her to leaders of the Jewish community. “One side is not all bad and one side is not all good.”

Yet Herzl will face an uphill battle with officials who come from the African National Congress, whose former leader Nelson Mandela considers Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat a close friend and fellow revolutionary.

Herzl doubts, for example, that she can persuade South Africa to support Israel in U.N. votes, “however brilliant or hardworking I am going to be.”

“It’s not going to happen, and I don’t think I should aim for that,” she said.

Rather, Herzl said, she would look for areas of mutual interest.

“I should aim for what we have in common, where we can touch on each other,” she said.

As an example of cooperation, she cited a new Israeli task force on AIDS and malaria, an initiative in which Israeli experts might be able to help South Africa.

The first woman appointed to the South African post, Herzl previously served for two years as minister for congressional affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

She had previously served as first and second secretary for congressional affairs in Washington from 1985 to 1988.

Herzl is no stranger to South Africa. She attended Herzlia High School in Cape Town and graduated with a B.A. degree from the University of Cape Town when her late father, Moshe Herczl, served as director of the Cape Board of Jewish Education and spiritual leader of the Rondebosch Hebrew Congregation.

Just the same, Herzl – who changed the spelling of her family name while in Israel – took pains to stress that she is Israeli, not South African.

She said she had clarified this point when she presented her credentials to South African President Thabo Mbeki.

If she manages to sensitize South African leaders to Israel’s perspective on the Mideast conflict, Herzl said, she would have justified her day’s salary.

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