Several organizations are calling on South Africa to couple its annual commemoration of a 1961 massacre of blacks with support for “human rights in Palestine” and sanctions against Israel.
Muslim groups from around the country have been joined in these calls by leading political parties and trade unions, as well as some Jews and a significant church body.
Marches took place Wednesday in Cape Town and in Johannesburg, and a full-page advertisement in the Johannesburg Star newspaper called for people to participate in a march on the Israeli and United States embassies in Pretoria on March 21, the country’s Human Rights Day.
The organizers of the Pretoria march included the African National Congress and its two partners in government, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, as well as new Palestine Solidarity committees in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The Palestine Solidarity groups are composed of several Muslim organizations, the Western Cape Council of Churches and Not in My Name, a Jewish group led by Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Ronnie Kasrils.
Members of the solidarity groups last week urged the government to sever all trade ties with Israel.
Max Ozinsky, an African National Congress delegate to the Western Cape provincial legislature and a founder of Not in My Name, said the Israeli government and World Zionist Organization should not be allowed to speak on behalf of world Jewry.
“We think that Jews who disagree with the occupation of Palestine, who disagree with the use of military methods against innocent civilians, Jews who believe in peace and negotiations, must make their voices heard,” he said.
Like the solidarity groups, the advertisement and the marchers on Wednesday drew parallels between the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the Palestinian situation.
“We who have lived through apartheid cannot be silent as another entire people are treated as non-human beings,” the advertisement said. “We cannot stand by and watch a people being annihilated.”
The advertisement called for the recall of South Africa’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, economic sanctions against Israel, a boycott of Israeli products and a cultural and sports boycotts against Israel.
It seems unlikely that the government will heed the calls. Earlier this month, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, told the South African Zionist conference that the government intended to take an “even-handed” stance toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Thousands marched through the streets of Cape Town on Wednesday to present a petition to Parliament.
Sheik Ibrahim Gabriels, president of the Muslim Judicial Council, compared the Middle East to Zimbabwe, which was suspended from the Commonwealth this week following the controversial re-election of President Robert Mugabe.
The council last week recognized Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah as “freedom fighters” rather than terrorists.
In Johannesburg, 300 members of the Moslem Students Association held a peaceful demonstration on the Witwatersrand University campus, displaying banners that “UK-US-Israel Axis of Evil,” “Sharon is a Murderer” and “Stop the Palestinian Holocaust.”
The South African Union of Jewish Students organized a counter demonstration, with Israeli flags and banners reading, “Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism also have human rights.”
Yehuda Kay, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said after the Johannesburg demonstration that it was “unfortunate that different groups in South Africa pursue a path that does nothing to bring peace, but only causes friction.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.