As the Palestinian death toll in Gaza rises, the position of local Jewish organisations on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been spotlighted.
Local Jewish organisations’ position on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been called into question after recent comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested more clearly than ever that he believes a two-state solution to the crisis is impossible.
But the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), whose long-held official position has supported a two-state solution, denied on Sunday that this is Netanyahu’s stance.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip reportedly overtook the 1 000 mark this weekend since the start of a third large-scale armed attack on the strip in five years, which started in June when three Israeli teenagers were allegedly kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians.
Nearly 50 Israelis have reportedly been killed. According to a comment piece by the Times of Israel editor, David Horovitz, Netanyahu told a press conference on July 11 that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan”.
The comment piece detailing Netanyahu’s remarks has since been widely referenced in international media. The piece said it was now “explicitly clear that [Netanyahu] could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank”.
“He wasn’t saying that he doesn’t support a two-state solution. He was saying that it’s impossible. This was not a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance,” it said. But vice-chairperson of the SAZF, Ben Swartz, refuted Horovitz’s comments, and told the Mail & Guardian on Sunday that Netanyahu was on “international record accepting and supporting the principle of a two-state solution in safe and defendable borders”.
“We support that,” he said, adding that it was “up to the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate the detail. It is critical to note that it is Hamas’s charter and leadership that call for the annihilation of Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. You should be focusing on that ‘small’ issue”. When asked for comment on mass shows of racism against Palestinians by Israelis on the streets and social media, among other platforms, Swartz said the question “is simply biased and disingenuous”.
“You have no doubt seen the horrendous racist and anti-Semitic tirades against the Jews at the moment in the press and social media, why are you not focusing on that or mentioning that?”
The federation, along with other civil society organisations and churches, are planning to hold a “solidarity rally for Israel” on August 3 in Linksfield. The federation’s media statement said the rally will serve to “show support for Israel, and call for peaceful negotiations to end the ongoing conflict in the Middle East”.
The statement said “every civilian death in this conflict is a tragedy” and that “the Palestinian people are not the enemies of Israel”. But it said “Hamas’s continued attacks on Israel’s civilian population via continuous barrages of rockets, constitutes both terror and war crimes. Israel has a moral and legal obligation to defend itself against Hamas’s terror”.
‘Simple as that’
When asked why the statement only called for Hamas to stop its attacks, Swartz told the M&G that “we all know that the truth is that if Hamas stop firing their rockets at Israeli civilians then Israel will hold its fire. It is really as simple as that”.
“The number of unconditional ceasefires [around four] offered by Israel over the last two weeks have all been rejected by Hamas, that is a fact,” he said. SAJBD president, Zev Krengel, also disagreed that Netanyahu had made it clear on July 11 that he did not support a two-state solution. He said Netanyahu’s comments “should not be interpreted as a departure from what has been the official policy of his party … namely that it is in both Israel’s and the Palestinians’ interests for an independent Palestinian state co-existing in peace alongside Israel to be established in territories captured by Israel in 1967”.
He told the M&G it may however “be necessary for Israel to retain security control of the West Bank – at least for a limited period – even after such a state comes into being … It would be a limitation on Palestinian sovereignty, but once the Palestinians have demonstrated – in practice, not just verbally – that the Gaza experience will not be repeated, Israel will then end its security presence in the West Bank and will be only too glad to do so”.
He acknowledged the racism against Palestinians at the hands of Israelis saying this was “unacceptable” but that it “is all a drop in the ocean, however, compared with the invective emanating from the other side”.
“If the playing fields were a bit more level in the media, rather than the present situation where Israel is routinely and unjustly depicted as a rampaging monster and the Palestinians as helpless innocents, then you would find Jewish voices being raised in cases where Israel and Israelis can indeed be said to be in the wrong,” he said.
Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg, Steven Friedman, told the M&G that there was a “contradiction” in positions taken by the Netanyahu and local Jewish organisations. “It indicates a hypocrisy … these organisations should definitely be put on the spot about it,” he said.
The SAZF and the SAJBD, he said, “don’t really believe in a two-state solution but they say they do because it sounds nice”. He said the liberal Jewish youth movement, Habonim, which “believes in a Jewish state but on liberal terms” were recently subjected to “hate by sections of the Jewish community who say Habonim is being supportive of Palestine”.
“These sections think a two state solution is too radical … The reaction to Habonim shows that the claims to support the two state solution are not actually real,” he said. Aljazeera reported on Sunday afternoon that Hamas and other Palestinian factions had agreed to a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire. This comes amid allegations from both Palestinians and Israelis that both sides had violated an earlier truce on the weekend.