Below is an interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with Mr Martin Skudicky, Chairman of the South African Zionist Youth Council, on the proposal to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a Liaison Office.
Interviewer: What is your response to proposal to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel, and indeed, what are your concerns?
Martin Skudicky: My initial response is that I am upset; that is the truth, I am upset. Especially, because we promote freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of belief, in our beautiful rainbow nation which we call South Africa. I feel that by this proposed downgrade coming about, it will inhibit my freedom of expression because as a South African, I am also Jewish, and I have connections to Israel, and my connections are very strong – on the side of heritage, on the side of religion, and also because Israel is the best place, and I love to visit it. I am also concerned that because of this, I am going to be restricted in my ability to visit Israel. I feel that, as part of the Youth Movement, which I am a part of – one of my pillars is the land of Israel. And, by my government, all of a sudden saying, “no, we are not going to have our Embassy there, and it is going to drop to a Liaison Office,” my mind is then saying, “we are cutting off ties. This is it. This is over – we do not believe in Israel, we do not support it.” And, for me that is a problem because, I obviously hold Israel very dear to me. It is a scary thought to imagine.
What do you think would be the implications of the downgrade on the Jewish Community, especially Jewish youth?
Firstly, the fact that all the Youth Movements that are a part of the SA Zionist Youth Council, obviously have Zionist dictates and ties to Israel. It is a pillar in every movement which is part of the Zionist Youth Council, and therefore it is something that we hold dear to us, for many different reasons. In terms of how it affects us, in South Africa, already there is quite a growing culture of anti-Zionism, which in my mind, is almost the same as antisemitism, and it is becoming that, more and more. It is quite scary to see that, by people just walking around the Universities, or anywhere else, and if for any reason someone identifies you as a Jew, they will, all of a sudden, attack you, and come at you with all sorts of outlandish comments and statements regarding Israel, just because they make this association.
So, in terms of security; if South Africa does this, then they are showing that in their view, “Israel is not something that we can align with as a nation, and it obviously goes against what we believe in as a nation.” And, that is simply not true, because I am part of the nation, we are part of the nation of South Africa, we are very proud South Africans, and at the same time, we support Israel. I feel that, with this downgrade, it will, on the one hand, put us in a potentially unsafe situation; it could bring about the threat for who those do support Israel, and who do believe in Israel. Because, all of a sudden the South Africans who do not, will see the downgrade as, “how can you even come close to supporting Israel, when your own country is clearly choosing to cut ties with the State of Israel.” And, there are also other elements, of political freedom, and freedom of expression, again. We, as Jews in South Africa, want to be able to express our love for the land of Israel, and support of the land of Israel. And, the government is basically limiting us in our freedom of expression, in our freedom to support the land of Israel.
And also, on assignments for the Youth Movements, we usually have tours that go to Israel. Some tours can be for the length of three weeks, some for a year. And a part of these tours is an educational element, where we go and we learn there, either in religious institutes or to studying there. And also, we bring highly-trained, highly-skilled educators from Israel to South Africa to educate on a variety of matters – in religion, whatever it may be. And, if downgrading the South African Embassy in Israel, means that Israel downgrades the Embassy in South Africa – How will that affect Visas? How will that affect passports? How will that affect the comings and goings of those who want to travel to Israel, and from Israel to South Africa? All of this is concerning, and at the same time very distressing for us; because, how is this going to affect our trips, our educators that we bring out, and so on and so forth?
How do you think South Africa could meaningfully contribute to the brokering of peace between Israel and Palestine?
South Africa, as a country, has been through so much, and we have has grown and we have learnt so much, and we have a lot to offer in terms of experience. We need to have two willing parties, wanting to come to a table and discuss the best way forward, the safest way forward, and the fairest way forward. I think South Africa, in terms of its history with apartheid, has very little to do with what is happening in Israel, because to call what is happening in Israel, apartheid, and for South Africa to get involved to bring an end to this so called ‘apartheid’, is actually a disgrace to those who went through the actual struggle and torment of what was called apartheid in South Africa. And, to compare the two is an unjust association because, what happened in South Africa was so brutal, was so tragic, and to compare what is happening in Israel to that – you cannot simply do that; it is not the same. South Africa, as a diplomatic nation, can come forward and try encouraging both parties, to meet, and discuss at a table, to see the best way forward and provide advice on how to reconcile. But, I think to call what is happening is Israel, apartheid, is unjust and unfair to those who had suffered through apartheid here in South Africa.
The best support that South Africa can provide to the resolution of this conflict between the two States is to try to bring the leaders of the two States, to a table, to meet, to discuss, to begin this conversation of peace and the best way forward. I do not think that there is any other way that South Africa can really get involved, other than by educating itself on what is really happening, because the unfortunate truth is that there is a group of people who are really trying to promote an unjust and untrue narrative of what is going on, so the best thing that people can do is really look into the matter – really do their research, and determine what is actually going on in Israel, and the efforts that have implemented to try to reach an agreement from both parties. Because, the message that coming across is very biased, and very negative, although there are elements that need to be properly looked at. The government itself must to try bring parties together, to meet and to discuss. Other than that, I do not think that there is much more that can be done.
Is there anything that you would like to add? And, anything you would like to add on behalf of the SA Zionist Youth Council?
From my side, we are in South Africa as proud South Africans, and living as proud South Africans, but at the same time have a strong connection to the land of Israel, and to its history, and we see it as part of our history. And, we want to see Israel and South Africa, growing in their relationship; people realising how much we can offer each other. Israel is coming up with so many new technologies and innovations that are truly amazing, which we should be using here in South Africa – desalination, for example, to get clean, pure, drinking water for Cape Town, for example, which is currently struggling with the drought it is experiencing. These innovations and resources, we need to be sharing. And, we need to be growing the relationship between Israel and South Africa because the truth is that the two have more in common, than not, and we have a lot to offer to each other. I hope to see the two growing the relationship, and strengthening it, and deepening it, and looking to throw it aside and lose it all together.