South Africa's Anti-Israel Hysteria–and Why You Should Care

Once again, dear reader, we delve deep into the obscure and ill-conceived debate among South Africans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. South Africa’s position makes no difference to the region: the African National Congress government has long since discredited itself as a neutral observer, and its own human rights record, at home and abroad, is so poor that it has lost any legitimacy it might once have had in dealing with the conflict.

In this case, we are concerned not with the ANC government but with the opposition Democratic Alliance. The DA has tried to maintain a neutral or even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, speaking out on those occasions when the ANC’s anti-Israel hysteria reached absurd proportions, but otherwise holding back. It has been an approach that suited the DA’s diverse constituencies, including both Jewish and Muslim voters.

Recently, however, it appears that the DA has gone along with the ANC’s lunacy–which can only be described as antisemitism at this stage, since it amounts to fomenting outrage against Israel alone, completely beyond any proportionate criticism. At a recent kangaroo court convened by the ANC to judge Israel in absentia, the DA’s delegate apparently failed to object to, and even agreed openly with, the ruling party’s anti-Israel fulminations.

As my former DA colleague Gareth van Onselen writes in Sunday’s Business Day

Earlier this month, [the DA] epresentative at a parliamentary conference on Palestine uncritically adopted a range of highly hostile resolutions on Israel and registered no reservation in endorsing the final, entirely pro-Palestinian declaration…

The party now wholly attributes any and all culpability for the conflict to Israel…That is a position it has now declared and it will support the Africa[n] National Congress (ANC) government in pursuing it. Either that or this represents yet another communications foul up, as its representative again failed to understand DA policy or articulate it properly in key moments that require conviction, not ambivalence….From the record, it appears the DA played its part by endorsing the key sentiments without registering so much as a whisper of opposition.

A caveat is in order: this would not be the first time that the DA has caved to anti-Israel sentiment on the eve of a national election. It happened, briefly, in 2004, after Israel carried out the targeted killing of Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. The ANC used the event to whip up anti-DA (and anti-Jewish) sentiment. The DA, under pressure, joined in condemning the attack on a man who was nothing more than the patron of mass murder.

However, when not caught up in a fast-changing news cycle, and given a chance to respond in a parliamentary forum, the DA had acquitted itself commendably. In 2001, the venerable Dene Smuts MP pushed back against the one-sided report of a parliamentary “fact-finding” mission to the Middle East, noting that she had found it easier to have a rational discussion about the conflict with Palestinians in Gaza than with the ANC leadership.

So the DA’s failure to stand up for reason on this occasion is somewhat alarming. I leave it to others to explain how and why the DA conformed to the ANC’s scapegoating. What is noteworthy for those of us in the U.S. and elsewhere is the single-mindedness of the left’s assault not only against Israel but against reason. We have seen shades of that mob mentality already, in the Democrats’ comical convention floor fight over Israel in 2012.

There is a sort of political superstition, rooted in Biblical teachings but also in the lessons of history, that those nations that are cruel to the Jews often meet a cruel end themselves. That is not because of any power that Jews have to exact revenge, but because antisemitism–or, today, obsessive anti-Israel criticism–is a symptom of a far broader decay. Hatred of Israel goes hand-in-hand with disdain for success, of tolerance, and of the rule of law.

The endurance of freedom in such circumstances has always depended on the courage of a few to speak out for the truth–an Émile Zola in the midst of France’s Dreyfus Affair, for example. The DA played that role for many years in South Africa. If its recent capitulation is not just an election-season flub but a deeper shift, than South Africa may be in real trouble–and there is every chance that the madness will continue to spread elsewhere, too.