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ANC talks for Palestine, but walks with Israel.

Preface:

But different segments of these apparatuses express contradictory interpellations of antisemitism. While the state’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the equality court have deemed ‘hurtful’ criticism of Israel or Jews to be antisemitic hate speech, the Supreme Court of Appeal has ruled that ‘hurtful’ speech is not ipso facto antisemitic and is constitutionally protected speech. Most recently reported, the Constitutional Court ruled that juxtaposing Zionism and Nazism is a hurtful trope to Jewish people, and therefore antisemitic.

Some South African leaders in the churches and schools have critiqued Israel as an ethno-state, provoking responses from Zionists that they are antisemites. A government deputy minister and a trade union leader used a discourse of allegedly antisemitic tropes. In my earlier article ‘Is Mandla Mandela an antisemite?’ I unpack the meaning of discourses as sets of linguistic codes, making up different linguistic fields, one of which is Zionism which claims that antisemitic linguistic codes form a universal, immutable structure of meaning.[3]

This article and the following four articles examine five cases of ideological struggle over the meaning of the terms anti-Zionism and antisemitism in South Africa in recent years. These cases involved Zionist ideological offensives against then deputy Foreign Minister Fatima Hajaig in 2007 (which is the subject of this article), then Congress of South African Trade Unions international relations spokesperson Bongani Masuku in 2008, then deputy-principal of the Vista High School (located in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town) Ismail Esau in 2017, the Cape Town-based Reclaim the City Campaign in 2017, and then moderator of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches Frank Chikane in 2021.

The ideological struggle in South Africa over the meaning of antisemitism takes place in a historical context and also in the context of the state of current anti-Zionist ideologies and antisemitic acts. Antisemitic white nationalists have been partial to the Jewish ethno-state of Israel. Dr Verwoerd, one of the architects of South African apartheiddemonstrated against Jewish immigration during the 1930s. After its establishment he described Israel as an apartheid state. Decades later apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa collaborated in the production of atomic bombs.

The African National Congress (ANC) in exile associated itself with the Palestinian struggle against Zionism. When the ANC became the government of South Africa in 1994 Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman Arafat was a guest of honour at the inauguration of Mandela as the first President of a democratic South Africa. As I pointed out in my article ’The dialectics of Israel’s rights Mandela had shortly after his release from prison in 1990 acknowledged Israel’s ‘right to exist’ side by side with his support for Palestinian freedom. After its unbanning and Mandela’s release, the ANC historically remained silent about the 1948 population relocation of over 700 000 Palestinians from more than 400 villages and certain urban centres.[4] Mandela’s comments after his release from prison characterised the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights) as colonialism, and did not describe the Zionist colonization of the entire historical Palestine as settler colonialism.[5]

The ANC government has spoken the language of solidarity with the Palestinians. Neither the government nor the party have signed up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. At the same time the government avoided supporting campaigns to isolate Israel through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

In this article I examine the ANC’s response when one its deputy-Ministers was publicly accused of antisemitism, within the context of the ANC’s ambiguous position, referred to above, with respect to Israel and historic Palestine.

Hajaig and Jewish money:

Deputy-Foreign Minister (2008) Fatima Hajaig. SOURCE: ourcampaigns.com

Within days then Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dhlamini Zuma issued a formal statement saying that the ANC government rejected, was opposed to and fought antisemitism as it did all forms of racism. Shortly thereafter the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBoD) condemned Hajaig for making an antisemitic statement and laid a complaint of hate speech with the HRC, while the Democratic Alliance opposition party demanded that she apologise or be dismissed. Hajaig then apologized for any pain that her remarks conflating Zionist pressure with Jewish influence may have caused and explained her opposition to all forms of racism including antisemitism. The SAJBoD refused to accept the apology because it did not retract the content of what she had said. After intervention by then President Kgalema Motlanthe Hajaig issued a second apology retracting her remarks in entirety which the SAJBoD accepted.

Antisemitic tropes:

Truth value of ‘tropes’:

He presented facts that he claimed supported the argument that Jewish people in the US had an influence on US Middle Eastern policy as well as on other important national issues far larger than their proportion of the population. In positing this Daikanyo was calling for a rational and empirical debate about the truth value of these statements but instead met a barrage of comments accusing him of engaging in antisemitic tropes. As with the case of Hajaig’s explanation of the meaning of her words, Diakanyo’s intentions were of no consequence to many — but not all — of the responders to his blog. There is resonance here with US Congress representative Ilhan Omar’s comments in 2019 about the influence of money in Zionist lobbying of the US government, and the backlash against her that forced her to apologise. Yet it is common knowledge — which Zionists do not deny — that through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Israel has a powerful lobby group in the US, which most US political elites seek to address and assure about their commitment to Israel’s security. AIPAC in turn is funded by wealthy Jewish elites as part of their commitment to Zionism and the state of Israel. (A measure of AIPAC’s influence is reflected in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu’s 2015 address to the US Congress in defiance of the policy of a sitting US President and his administration regarding a nuclear deal with Iran). In 2011, barely three years after Ms Hajaig’s comments, a similar group, the South Africa Israel Public Affairs Committee was launched in Cape Town South Africa. Its aim is to lobby the SA government to establish supportive and sympathetic policies between it and the state of Israel.

Conclusion:

There is no universal, immutable code, when it comes to the signification of anything, let alone antisemitism, because the meaning of signification is culturally specific. That’s why an English metaphor cannot be directly translated into (say) German. And within cultures there is ongoing linguistic development, consciously given (e.g. though ideological struggle) or passively consumed. Therefore, there are multiple, ever-changing discourse codes where the meanings of yesterday’s codes are morphing into tomorrow’s changed significations.

Further insights in that article are that in any discourse there is the intention of the senders of messages, the understanding of the messages by the receivers (i.e. the impact of the messages) and the truth value of the message statement. Activists engaged in ideological struggle need to understand the dynamics of discourses (like Zionism) that they are struggling against, as well as the dynamic articulation of their own discourses (like Palestinian liberation). This entails understanding the intention of the social agents, the impact of their messages and the extent to which these messages are true or simply propaganda.

What Hajaig said was (and still is) true: wealthy and politically influential Jewish establishment organisations and individuals consciously seek to influence the policies towards Israel of governments in North America and Western Europe. And they publicly proclaim that their intention is to advance Jewish interests (interpreted as unconditional support for Israel). There is no evidence that Hajaig meant that Jews were genetically and culturally predisposed to this type of elite influence and buying of favours qua Jews.

The impact of her message on some of those receiving it (i.e. the Zionists) was however precisely that meaning. It is possible that other audiences might have understood her message as reinforcing a view of Jews as inherently malevolent. In which case they would have heard a corrective to that understanding in her initial apology, where she explained her intentions and the meaning that she ascribed to her words. This ongoing clarification of the significance of what we say is part and parcel of integrated social life. There have to be continuous clarifications between senders of messages and listeners for there to be peace, and especially democratic participation by citizens in running their affairs. Power imbalances and the imposition of a narrative threatens this open ended and democratic process. War represents its extreme limit: this is reflected in the slogan ‘truth is the first casualty in war, the rest are mainly civilians’.[8]

Notwithstanding its seemingly pro-Palestinian talk the ANC has consistently walked with a Zionist narrative that occludes the Nakba, supports the now moribund project of two states and desists from acting against the interests of the state of Israel and its local representatives. At the World Conference against Racism (Durban, 2001) Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma worked hard with North American and European states to salvage Israel’s status from a concerted and successful anti-Zionist NGO movement, through crafting a resolution acceptable to all parties[9]. In 2002 then South African deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahad addressed the annual South African Zionist Federation conference, and his text reportedly came close to an apology. In 2008 Dhlamini-Zuma’s swift distancing from Hajaig’s speech and Motlanthe’s forcing Hajaig not only to apologise to SAJBoD but also to retract her words maintained continuity in a long trend in ANC discourse on historical Palestine, Israel and antisemitism.

Significantly, the Zionist attack on Hajaig focused not on anti — Zionist ideology as being antisemitic, but rather on comments about Jewish money buying influence, this being seen as simply the expression of a deep rooted antisemitic trope. In three of the five case studies referred to in the introduction, we will see that the Zionist ideological struggle strategy in South Africa focused not on the ‘Israel=Jew’ couplet but on the claim that anti-Zionists regularly express age-old antisemitic tropes. From closely reading South African Zionist ideological campaigns centred on combatting antisemitism I have concluded that there is also a broader focus than simply on identifying anti-Israelism as antisemitic. Anti-capitalist and anti-US empire discourses as well as discourses probing the the holocaust and the insertion of Jewish identity in class societies are trawled for evidence of the presence and impact of the antisemitism virus that Zionists claim is eternally embedded in gentile societies.

Paul Hendler, Stellenbosch, South Africa, 17 April 2023.

[1] See my articles ‘The dialectics of antisemitism and the holocaust‘ (sub-heading ‘David Irving holocaust sceptic: historian or Nazi propagandist?’) and ‘Inverted antisemitism in Germany and the United Kingdom‘.

[2] See my article ‘Jewish right not to be invested in Israel‘ for a detailed explanation of the meaning of the term ‘ideological state apparatus’.

[3] Examples of these codes are given in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism as well as in the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (see my article ‘Jewish right not to be invested in Israel‘, the sub-sub- heading ‘Rejection of a Jewish state is antisemitic’).

[4] Detail of these brutal population relocations are contained in footnote eight (8) of my article ‘The dialectic of Zionism and utopian thought

[5] For details of the ANC’s and Mandela’s view of the colonisation of historical Palestine, see sub-heading ‘Mandela: de facto right to exist‘ in my article ‘The dialectics of Israel’s rights

[6] See sub-heading ‘Rejection of a Jewish state is antisemitic’, in my article ‘Jewish right not to be invested in Israel’.

[7] Referred to in the first of my articles on Medium, ‘From being a Zionist to becoming an anti-Zionist Jew‘ under the sub-heading ’Doubting and unbecoming a Zionist’.

[8] The slogan on a World without War T-shirt.

[9] See my article ‘Making sense of the World Conference against Racism battle of discourses

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