A more nuanced discussion around Israel’s domestic situation was needed before criticising Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane for visiting the country, said international relations expert Tom Wheeler.
The former research associate at the South African Institute of International Relations told Saturday Citizen that a large part of the controversy around the Jewish-ruled country was propaganda and media bias.
In South Africa and many parts of the world, Israel’s policies in respect of Palestinians, who have for time immemorial been fighting for land and sovereignty in the country, have been compared to those of the apartheid regime.
“I think it is in some way regarded by some people as propaganda and there really is no similarity between the apartheid regime and the two-state solution,” Wheeler said.
Maimane was recently slammed by the ANC and various human rights groups for meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to the country last week. African National Congress (ANC) spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said earlier this week that the trip confirmed the party’s suspicion that the DA supported the policies of Israel and undermined its stated support for self-determination for the Palestinian people.
“At a time when the world is increasingly standing up against Israel’s illegal settlements, including the United Nations Security Council, it is a pity that the DA is endorsing the Israeli regime instead of condemning its violations of international law,” he said.
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Kodwa challenged the DA to publicly denounce Israel for inflicting “apartheid” on the Palestinian people in order to prove it, indeed, held the same views as the ANC.
The DA defended the visit, saying Maimane had also been due to meet the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who cancelled due to a scheduling conflict.
The party also said its leader met Palestinian officials, human rights activists and representatives of the Israeli and Palestinian business communities to “discuss how business and trade can be used to advance peace when politics is failing to make progress”.
Wheeler lauded the move as well thought out. “I think [Maimane] is doing the right thing in not taking sides. That is a good policy,” he said. He added that the situation in Israel was far less cut and dried than public outrage made it out to be, describing a recent visit to the country during which he visited the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
“A couple of years ago I visited Israel and my wife and I were able to visit Bethlehem on the Palestinian side, taking a taxi through the so-called wall between the two, and there was no difficulty.”
The visit comes hot on the heels of another controversial international visit by Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga. He visited Taipei in Taiwan, a state the ANC-led government explicitly declared it did not recognise in solidarity with trading partner China.