Maimane on ‘fascinating’ trip to Israel while ambassador punts on SA government radio

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane is currently on a low-key visit to Israel, going against presidential orders discouraging travel to Israel.

Speaking at the 105th anniversary of the African National Congress (ANC) in Soweto on Sunday, President Jacob Zuma strongly discouraged South Africa-Israel relations.

“The people of Palestine continue to suffer in their rightful quest for self determination,” Zuma said. The ANC “pledges its ongoing solidarity and support for their just cause. We reiterate that we firmly discourage travel to Israel for causes not related to fostering peace in the region”, he added.

Officially, the South African government supports a two-state solution. There are many parallels that have been drawn between South Africa’s apartheid regime and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and ultimately South Africa supports the quest for Palestinian self-determination to live in peace, side-by-side with the state of Israel.

In December last year, Zuma pledged the ANC’s support for the UN Security Council resolution 2334 against Israel and called for unity in Palestine.

Reverend Edwin Arrison, chairperson of the National Coalition for Palestine, told The Daily Vox that Maimane’s travel to Israel is reckless. “It seems that even after the Security Council resolution and Israel’s extreme reaction to that, the DA leader does not understand how his presence seems to condone the Israeli settlement enterprise. For a party leader who so often relies on the law, it seems odd that he plays loose and fast with international law, particularly given our South African history,” he said.

Maimane’s visit also comes in the wake of Israel’s ambassador Arthur Lenk speaking on a Department of International Relations and Co-operation radio station on Tuesday, promoting Israel. In the podcast, Lenk downplays the atrocities that take place in Palestine, and supports tourism and economic ties with Israel, calling it a haven for startups.

The ANC has condemned the visit, saying it is “not surprised by the DA’s visit to Israel and to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … it is a pity that the DA is endorsing the Israeli regime instead of condemning its violations of international law.”

“We also warn the DA not to mislead the public by suggesting that our government and our party share the same position as the DA on Palestine. The ANC not only supports a just a fair solution but we also have for for several years attended, actively supported and organised international solidarity campaigns with the people of Palestine. We, unlike the DA call out Israel for its racism against African refugees, we condemn Israel’s Apartheid policies and its violations of international law including building of illegal settlements and the inhumane Gaza siege,” the party said in a statement on Thursday.

UPDATE: The DA has since responded to the criticism that Maimane has received, saying that the trip is to both Israel and Palestinian territories “in order to listen and learn about the conflict first hand and to discuss how South Africa should be playing a more constructive role in bringing the parties together for peace”.

In a statement on Thursday, the party said a meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, was scheduled, but was cancelled by his office “due to a scheduling conflict”.

The party said it supports a two-state solution.

Reporting by Aaisha Dadi Patel and Shaazia Ebrahim
This story has been updated to reflect the DA’s statement on the subject

Featured image via Twitter