ANC to investigate students’ paid trip to Israel
Written by Yazeed Kamaldien
The ANC is set to investigate a group of Joburg students who allegedly represented it on a paid trip to Israel – an attempt to “embarrass us” – said one of the party’s top officials yesterday.
This comes after prominent Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article and photograph on its website on Friday about the trip.
The article was headlined: “South African community in Ra’anana meets young ANC leaders”.
Haaretz reported the tour was organised by the South Africa Israel Forum (SAIF) for an 18-member delegation traveling to Israel with an “open mind”.
It reported SAIF’s director Dan Brotman said “some of the participants, who will be future leaders in South Africa, were under enormous pressure not to come or received threats over being kicked out of their political parties”.
“Some of the participants, who told Haaretz they are in Israel on a personal capacity, said they supported the ‘boycott Israel’ movement because they were getting one-sided information,” reported Haaretz.
Brotman, originally from the United States, told Haaretz: “The goal is not to make them pro-Israel, but to expose them to a narrative they really don’t hear in South Africa.”
The ANC’s Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office, dismissed the trip as a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine”.
Bapela said the ANC would investigate the matter.
“I’m the head of the ANC’s international relations committee and I must know about all trips the ANC undertakes,” said Bapela.
“The ANC did not send anybody to Israel. The ANC was also not represented by anyone. We will investigate this. We will summon the students.
“Israel wants to recruit young people. They are offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC.”
He added: “We have a clear position that supports Palestinian freedom. No leader of the ANC in its private capacity or for the party will visit Israel. It will be putting the ANC in disrepute.”
Ntuthuko Makhombothi, president of the South African Student’s Congress (Sasco), said yesterday the delegation included students from Wits and Joburg universities in Gauteng.
“The students have been offered a holiday trip to Israel. I don’t have the exact names to give you now. They could not afford this,” said Makhombothi.
“They are offered other things that we don’t know.”
He added: “We believe our members participated in a propaganda trip in Israel. This trip is an attempt to paint a glossy picture.
“It is known that we are one of the organisations that has called for a boycott against Israel, and for divestment.
“We will take a decision on what to do with those members who have taken a position outside the policy of our organisation. This is just an attempt to derail us in our solidarity with Palestinians.”
Bapela said they wanted to hear from the students what happened on the trip.
“We don’t know if it’s Sasco who said they are representing the ANC or if Israel is saying this because they know Sasco is part of the ANC,” said Bapela.
Weekend Argus obtained a SAIF “Young Leaders Israel Tour” itinerary that outlined its objectives. It includes a “walk through military bunkers”.
Zak Mbhele, a Democratic Alliance parliamentarian, went on a similar SAIF trip recently. The former spokesman for Western Cape premier Helen Zille yesterday said it was “not a propaganda trip”.
“It was a study tour. It was about exposing the delegates to the reality on the ground. We met with different civil society activists in Israel, including a Jewish activist who supported the boycott against Israel,” said Mbhele.
“There was never a sense of pro-Israel propaganda. If you are going to have a strong opinion on Israel, at least you should go there.”
Mbhele said he was “surprised by how diverse Israel is, in terms of race and culture”.
“My opinion didn’t change much. There is a sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but at the same time I start getting very agitated when arguments start talking about Israel being illegitimate,” said Mbhele.
Israel has meanwhile denied entry into Palestinian territories for another parliamentarian, the ANC’s Blade Nzimande, in April.
The higher education minister subsequently called for an academic boycott against Israel.
Just a few days ago, Nelson Mandela’s Treason Trial co-accused Denis Goldberg issued a statement slamming “Israeli propaganda holiday trips”.
“Succumbing to free trips to Israel is to do harm to the cause of the Palestinian people just as people who visited (apartheid) South Africa broke the boycott during the sanctions did harm to our movement,” said Goldberg.
“I think its important not to go. I think it’s important to refuse to go… and not get bought and lose your moral compass by going because it’s just a free trip. What nonsense is this? One should have moral principles.”
Weekend Argus yesterday contacted the South African Zionist Federation and also the Jewish Voice for Just Peace but could not get comment from local Israeli supporters.