Israel flag. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

An open letter to Ebrahim Ebrahim, deputy minister of international relations and co-operation:

DEAR Deputy Minister Ebrahim,

You are a minister of the South African government, appointed to advance the interests of the republic and the people of South Africa in an impartial and rational manner. As a citizen and as a national religious leader of South Africa, I object to the way in which you are abusing your high office to promote your personal agenda.

You obviously have a "blind spot" when it comes to Israel; you lose your sense of objectivity and rationality when dealing with the Jewish state.

You have used your platform and title in an active campaign to prevent South Africans — and especially members of the government — from visiting Israel. This is but one example of your irrational obsession with Israel to the detriment of the proper execution of your governmental duties. You have acted in breach of your government’s own foreign policy, in terms of which South Africa and Israel have full diplomatic relations.

Your actions hark back to apartheid-style control of information and censorship.

Why would you try to prevent South Africans from travelling to Israel and seeing the situation for themselves? Do you think, Mr Ebrahim, that the South African people are not as clever as you are, that they cannot think for themselves and that they need to be protected from the facts?

Maybe you are afraid — and rightly so — that if people go to Israel and see the situation for themselves, their perspective will be completely different. Are you worried that they will see that, in fact, there is no apartheid in Israel? South Africans visiting Israel will find a multiracial, multi-ethnic vibrant society in which more than 1.5-million Arabs live as full and equal Israeli citizens, vote as part of a single national voters’ roll and have full legal rights in all areas of society.

Are you concerned that when South Africans travel on buses, visit parks, malls, hospitals and university campuses, attend the Israeli parliament and the Supreme Court, they will find Jews and Arabs living and working together in complete equality? They may hear, for example, that, in fact, it was an Arab judge who convicted former Israeli president Moshe Katsav on rape charges.

Maybe you are afraid that South African Christians will find that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where they can practise their religion freely, without fear; that South African women will find that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where they can be fully equal citizens; that South African trade unionists will discover that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where there are legal and active trade unions that protect workers’ rights; that South African journalists will see that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where freedom of expression is properly upheld.

Are you worried that our fellow South Africans may learn that successive Israeli governments have supported the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated peace agreement?

Are you concerned that South Africans may speak to Ehud Barak, the dovish former prime minister of Israel, who desperately tried at the Camp David and Taba negotiations to create a Palestinian state, only to be rebuffed by the Palestinian leadership?

Are you concerned that South Africans might hear for themselves directly from the current Israeli government how it seeks to return immediately to the negotiating table without preconditions, and that it is the Palestinian leadership that refuses to do so?

Maybe you are worried that our fellow South Africans may discover that the so-called "separation wall" is actually a security fence; that before it was erected, waves of suicide bombers killed more than 1,300 Israelis and wounded more than 10,000, and that since its erection these attacks have stopped. Maybe you are afraid that South Africans might speak to members of Hamas, who openly call for the destruction of the state of Israel and the murder of all Jews around the world.

Mr Ebrahim, your personal bias against Israel prevents you from fulfilling your legal and ethical duties as minister of international relations and co-operation, who, with impartiality and sound judgment, is supposed to further peace, justice and South African strategic interests in the world. Your actions to discourage South Africans from travelling to Israel are but one manifestation of your extremist views.

In so doing, you are jeopardising SA’s international credibility and strategic interests. It is indeed the ideological allies of Hamas and Hezbollah — Israel’s sworn enemies — who have also launched a terror campaign against Christian communities throughout Africa. In recent months, scores of churches have been burnt and hundreds of Christians have been murdered because of their faith. Nigeria, one of our key African partners, has borne the brunt of some of the worst attacks.

As a leading African nation, South Africa must condemn these attacks and express support and offer assistance to its fellow African governments in Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. To South Africa’s shame, you have remained silent. You have been too hesitant and weak in condemning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s actions, which have resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 of his citizens and the displacement of nearly 150,000 people.

These are but a few examples of how your prejudice precludes you from fulfilling your role as a minister of this government.

You seem to forget that your mandate is to serve the interests of the people and the government of South Africa and not your own personal allegiances. A judge who is biased or perceived to be so is legally and ethically required to remove himself from the case, in the interest of integrity, justice and truth. These same values require that you do the same and resign.

Especially during such turbulent times, how does a minister of international relations discourage people from travelling and seeing for themselves?

Why do you repeat the sins of the apartheid regime and shun dialogue with and understanding of the "other"?

Peace cannot be achieved by withdrawal and isolation; as the Book of Psalms (34:15) says: "Seek peace, and pursue it." The dream of peace will become a reality only when people proactively pursue it and move beyond their prejudices and preconceptions and truly understand the complex realities of the Middle East in an open-minded and balanced way. Your actions support the forces of extremism, hatred and violence, and undermine the forces of tolerance, freedom and peaceful negotiations.

For the sake of peace and justice, we need more information, not less; we need more dialogue, not less; we need more connections with other societies, not less. You clearly do not believe so, and hence you are unfit to hold public office.

Do the honourable thing: resign.

Dr Warren Goldstein

Chief Rabbi