Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane’s current trip to Israel has raised quite a stir. And for good reason. Looking for some answers, Redi Tlhabi, on her afternoon show on 702 spoke to Maimane’s spokesperson about the timing of the trip, the decision to use the South African flag in the photo-shoot with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and generally WTF was Maimane thinking by going there in the first place.
The interview was completely lit and Mabine Seabe certainly looked like a tool by the end of it.
But don’t take our word for it. Read the full transcript below.
Redi Tlhabi: There’s been a lot of reaction to Mmusi Maimane’s recent visit to Israel and his picture with Benjamin Netanyahu. The ANC in the Western Cape said it was revolted with Maimane’s meeting with Israeli leaders and there is an ANC response as well, saying that the opposition party had betrayed efforts by Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo to build solidarity with the Palestinians. Many organisations and people are talking about it and tweeting about it. But in the DAâ€™s response, they’re saying that Maimane had met with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu and other opposition politicians and that some meetings had also been cancelled, particularly with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. Mabine Seabe, the spokesperson for Mmusi Maimane, joins us now.
Welcome to the show. My question is, it isn’t illegal to visit Israel or take a picture with Benjamin Netanyahu. But there is a history here, that Israel supported Apartheid in South Africa. Israel is being condemned for illegal settlements. The United Nations Security Council have expressed its pronouncement on this. There was a Secretary of State of the United States (John Kerry) also recently lambasting Israel. Symbolically, Mmusi Maimane being there with Netanyahu and taking pictures with all this history taken into account is problematic.
Seabe: I hear your concern. But we must also look at this in the wider picture and the recent picture with the leader of the Democratic Alliance. The visit was to look at the situation first hand, with both and Israeli and a Palestinian perspective. The leader had met with the Israeli president and the Palestinian Authority’s president who cancelled at the last minute. He did meet with Palestinian officials there as well as activists. And this is to ensure that we can, as South African’s represented in parliament as an opposition party, that once occupied them.
Tlhabi: This line is bad. This is too important a matter to just sift through and carry on in this bad line. I’ll put you on hold, I’ve got a lot of questions that I would like you to answer. I want to give you a fair chance to respond to them. I know this is an emotive issue in South Africa but let’s be real here. In my experience as a talk show host, every time you speak Middle Eastern politics, it goes South. I’m unapologetically dealing with this matter because it is important, and I know already that there is a reaction which seems to suggest that there is anti-Semitism when Israel is being criticised. I make a distinction between the State of Israel and Jewish identity. This is not an attack on Jewish identity, I am dealing with this solely from a political point of view. We’re dealing with the State of Israel and we’re not going to conflate the two. (To Seabe) I’m sorry, the line was bad, I asked you about the symbolism of this given the history of Apartheid South Africa with Israel.
Seabe: I understand the concern of many South Africans but we must look at this matter holistically. The reason for the visit of the leader of the Democratic Alliance to both Israel and Palestine and meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian activists. We want to understand this matter on a first hand basis. We’re not just the party of opposition, we’re the party in government in many jurisdictions across South Africa. We’re the party that wants to enter the Union Buildings in 2019. Therefore we must have a full understanding of the crisis that is in this region so that we can play a meaningful role in resolving the crisis.
Tlhabi: With all due respect, what is it that you donâ€™t understand? Letâ€™s just go back to apartheid South Africa. If people were taking pictures with the apartheid government saying that they wanted to understand Apartheid – itâ€™s about human rights and illegal settlements, occupation and the backing of Apartheid. Where we are now in 2017 as a free South Africa, what is it that the DA doesnâ€™t seem to understand? I wonder, how might you have reacted when people were posing with Verwoerd and saying they just want to understand?
Seabe: Itâ€™s very irresponsible for us as a political party to rely on media reports. We need to get a first hand understanding of whatâ€™s happening there, and that includes meeting with both sides on this matter. We as the Democratic Alliance support the UN Resolution, as well as the government’s position which calls for a two-state solution. We need to have all the facts on the table on what the road forward is and how we can solve this crisis. As much as it is a crisis of the region itâ€™s also an international crisis that affects all South Africans. South Africaâ€™s foreign policy is supposedly based on human rights.
Tlhabi: But thatâ€™s exactly the point. Based on human rights, but illegal settlements are not human rights, Surely, Maimane should have been sensitive to that. He is posing with a party that is seen as the power in this crisis.
Seabe: We need to know both sides of the story. This has been one-sided, people have been focusing on the fact that we went to Israel when we have been to Palestine as well, to understand their grievances. It would be irresponsible for us to make the position and articulate the position without having all the facts on the table.
Why is Maimane in Israel? https://t.co/uFacKnnkxd
â€” The Daily VOX (@thedailyvox) January 13, 2017
Tlhabi: I think positions have been articulated even in the United Nations which is why Iâ€™m surprised that the DA doesnâ€™t have the clarity when the world body has spoken on this particular matter.
Seabe: As a party represented in parliament that wants to bring solutions to the table, we must be able to go there with empirical evidence and our own observations.
Tlhabi: Do you doubt the legitimacy of illegal settlements?
Seabe: We donâ€™t doubt anything. But as a party represented in the South African parliament we must be sure we have the right information and that we get this information first hand.
Tlhabi: What about the use of the South African flag? Mmusi Maimane is not the head of state, on what basis was Mmusi using the flag?
Seabe: That was not an arrangement made by us, it was made by Netanyahuâ€™s office.
Yet another important African visit to Israel. Welcome to Israel, Honorable Maimane. https://t.co/Cq1TZpjLGU
â€” Arthur Lenk (@ArthurLenk) January 10, 2017
Tlhabi: And you couldnâ€™t correct them as to the sensitivity and inappropriateness of it? It just happened to you?
Seabe: Well, weâ€™re not going to dictate the termsâ€¦
Tlhabi: Oh, come on Mabine! If Iâ€™m going somewhere and Iâ€™m representing Redi Tlhabi as a talk show host and 702â€™s banner is used I would intervene. Iâ€™m using a very simple example to communicate something very serious. I would intervene.
Seabe: I donâ€™t see how thatâ€™s problematic, the South African flag being used in this regard.
Tlhabi: Your first answer is that you were not responsible for it, they did it, which was a tacit acknowledgement that it wasnâ€™t appropriate because heâ€™s not the head of state. Now youâ€™re saying you donâ€™t think there was anything wrong with it.
Seabe: The South African flag is owned by the people of South Africa, not the head of state alone.
Tlhabi: When someone who is the leader of the official opposition party goes to visit and stand on the global stage with the prime minister of Israel, a controversial figure, and the South African flag is there, I think you are smart enough, and Maimane is smart enough, to see that symbolically itâ€™s communicating to the world that this is South Africaâ€™s stance. This is a message from someone powerful in South Africa. A flag is not just a flag in the context. It is speaking about two nations coming together. Mmusi Maimane cannot be going there as a representative of a nation given that heâ€™s not the head of state.
Seabe: He can go as a representative of parliament and in his own capacity to represent the party there. We have a diplomatic representative of the country in Israel. Those arrangements were made in Netanyahuâ€™s office to ensure that the right protocol was made for a leader from South Africa. Maybe not the governmentâ€™s leader but the leader of the countryâ€™s official opposition of a constitutionally recognised position.
Tlhabi: I think you are waffling, Mabine. You are talking about representation and Iâ€™m talking about the nation, the state was not representing that. You could have used the DAâ€™s flag if you were there, representing the DA. But Iâ€™m saying that it was quite cunning to agree to put the South African flag there knowing the kind of message that that would send out. But we have run out of time, thank you for talking to us. Make up your own mind about what is legal and what is just.