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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Parallel narratives: The ANC’s history with Palestine

Journey through the twists and turns of SA's diplomatic relations with Israel, from establishing ties in the '70s to the post-apartheid tilt towards Palestine.

The souring of relations between South Africa and Israel have a history which has seen the ANC-led government supporting the cause of Palestine – seen as mirroring “victims of apartheid”.

Israeli timeline

The 1950s and 1960s saw Israel becoming an open critic of apartheid South Africa.

But Israel established diplomatic ties with South Africa in 1974.

However, most African countries severed ties with Israel in 1973 – leading to it deepening its diplomatic ties with apartheid South Africa throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1986, Israel was the only democratic state that did not take part in most international sanctions imposed on apartheid South Africa by the international community.

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After apartheid ended in 1994, there was a sharp deterioration in relations, with South Africa’s position tilting in favour of the Palestinians owing, in part, to the historic alliance between the ANC and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).


Palestine established ties with post-democratic South Africa in 1995.

For several years, the ANC maintained close relations with the PLO, with Nelson Mandela talking regularly with its leader, Yasser Arafat.

After the first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa established diplomatic relations with the state of Palestine on February 15, 1995.

During his tenure as president, Mandela visited Israel and Palestine – calling for peace between both countries.

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This, as prominent South African leaders Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils, criticised Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

They drew parallels between apartheid South Africa and modern-day Israel.

During the 2008-2009 Gaza War, South Africa’s then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fatima Hajaig, called on Israel to stop military attacks in Gaza and withdraw its forces from the border.

She said: “The South African government finds the continued siege on Gaza unacceptable as it does not allow humanitarian relief supplies such as medicine, food and water to reach the desperate people of Gaza.”

“The South African government unequivocally and in the strongest possible terms condemns the escalation of violence on the part of Israel brought about by the launching on Saturday night of a ground invasion into Gaza.”

ALSO READ: Israel recalls ambassador from SA ‘for consultations’

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