/ 12 October 2023

Israeli embassy ‘arrogant and unwilling to engage’, says Nomvula Mokonyane 

Chaos: Under Nomvula Mokonyane irregular expenditure rose from R13-million in 2009 to R4-billion in 2017. Photo: Kopano Tlape
Nomvula Mokonyane. Photo by Kopano Tlape

ANC deputy secretary general Nomvula Mokonyane has accused the Israeli embassy in South Africa of “arrogance” and unwillingness to engage about the latest conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian while in the United Kingdom to attend the Labour Party conference, Mokonyane, who heads the ANC international relations committee, criticised the Israeli government, calling out the “inconsistencies” in how the world’s superpowers have reacted to the war. 

The ANC led government has called for an immediate ceasefire and peace after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Saturday, firing about 5 000 rockets into Israel as part of “Operation al-Aqsa Flood”. 

According to CNN, the operation killed at least 1200 people in Israel – among them non-Israelis, women, children and babies. Hundreds of civilians were also kidnapped. 

Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza have left over 1000 people dead, according to Palestinian officials quoted by various media. Women, children and babies are also among the dead in the strip, according to reports. 

Hamas has said it launched the attack so that the world would “not forget about the Palestinian people” and their plight. The attack also comes as Washington is trying to help “normalise” relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Mokonyane said that the ANC has made several attempts to engage with the Israeli government in South Africa. She said that the ANC’s stance against “apartheid Israel” did not mean that the ANC was “anti-Jew”.  

“We are open to engage with the Israeli government and with everyone and anyone. It’s just that we have an arrogant embassy and leadership of Israel in South Africa that never wants to engage with the African National Congress, that never wants to engage with a civil society in South Africa to an extent where they will get the police to come and stop people from submitting a memorandum.”

Mokonyane was also critical of the international community and the media coverage of the war, saying that it was inconsistent. 

“What you see happening in Israel happens daily in Palestine, and cameras are not there.” 

The ANC has been criticised for having failed to condemn the attack by Hamas.

While Mokonyane did not condemn Hamas outright, she said that any loss of civilian life was a serious concern. 

She doubled down on the ANC’s statement, saying that the party should not be bashed for not using the word condemned. 

“We have said we must condemn the occupation of the Palestinian land by Israel, we must condemn the bombing of men and women in Palestine and even here it is Hamas it’s not the people of Palestine. 

“You need to also appreciate who contributed to the formation of Hamas. It’s the same as the issues of NATO because if the international law and our messaging becomes inconsistent, then you can’t then want the ANC to just bash Hamas. Hamas is not a representative of the people of Palestine and then ANC continues to say we stand with the people of Palestine.” 

She called out international governments, alluding to a hypocrisy in how former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Russian president Vladimir Putin had been charged by the international criminal court (ICC). 

“Here you have [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who says I’m going to crash Gaza, I’m going to hunt for these people and retaliate and nobody’s saying you must go to the ICC. But we’re all quick to have condemned Gaddafi and we were all too quick to say comrade Putin has to go to the ICC, how inconsistent. We must put the blame on Netanyahu and more importantly on the United Nations.  

“We’re not anti Jewish. We’re not anti Jews. We’re not, it’s not the position of the ANC. We are anti terrorism against innocent people, we are anti the hostile takeover of people’s land. We are anti anything that stands in the way of self determination by any nation.” 

She said Jews of South African origin, and those who helped the ANC during apartheid, must understand the plight of the Palestinian people.

“As the ANC we are prepared to talk to anyone and everyone. The issue is about whether all those people are committed towards a negotiated peace settlement,” she said. 

In 2017, the ANC’s national policy conference decided to adopt a resolution made by the ANC in the Western Cape to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel, because of the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territories. That resolution would then be brought to the elective conference where it would have to be approved before it could be put to government.

In 2019, the then Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu clarified that a decision had been made to not replace the ambassador.

The embassy, which would be downgraded to a liaison office, “will have no political mandate, no trade mandate and no development cooperation mandate. It will not be responsible for trade and commercial activities,” Sisulu stated. However, consular services, such as visa issuing, remained in place.

The Palestinian and Israeli war formed part of ANC’s engagements with the UK’s Labour Party. While the two parties have agreed on a two-state solution in Israel, Mokonyane said Keir Starmer’s Labour party did not agree with its non aligned stance on the war in Eastern Europe. 

Mokonyane said that the Labour Party appreciated its historical position as a developing state agreeing that there is a need to be consistent on issues of human rights. 

“We can’t then not talk about the inconsistencies of the application of the international law and the ICC, why is Tony Blair not in the ICC?” she said. 

The Labour Party is favoured to take over from the conservatives when the UK goes to its next election. The UK is one of South Africa’s strongest trade partners with total trade in goods and services between the two countries at £10.3 billion at the end of first quarter in 2023. 

Mokonyane said part of the ANC’s renewal agenda was reconnecting with international relations allies.

“What we have done also as the national executive committee is to say issues of international relations are going to be organisational issues and it will not just be about international solidarity, it must be around trade. 

“It must be about the overall geopolitics and we must have an official who locates international relations as the day to day responsibility of the ANC and make it understandable to our constituencies as well as society at large. We don’t just pronounce and not engage,” she said.