First-Ever Knesset Delegation to South Africa

Zionist Camp MK Nahman Shai. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The first Knesset delegation to visit South Africa returned to Israel this week after meeting with a range of current and former public officials and representatives of the Jewish community.

A statement from the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) said that the five-member group “met with senior political figures from across the political spectrum, including former President Kgalema Motlanthe and former minister and Chairperson of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, both of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, and Opposition Leader Mmusi Maimane and Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba of the Democratic Alliance (DA).”

“The Israeli legislators also visited the South African parliament in Cape Town and met with counterparts from a range of parties, including the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the Congress of the People, and the African Christian Democratic Party,” the GPO said.

Missing from the list, however, were current members of the ruling African National Congress at the Parliament in Cape Town, who “snubbed” the Israelis, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post.

MK Nachman Shai (Zionist Camp), who co-chairs the Knesset Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish World, and led the delegation, said “it was wrong” that their South African counterparts wouldn’t talk with them.

“We asked to see them and they refused…Israel-South Africa relations are not hateful – there is no animosity. We have a long history with South Africa.”

Shai acknowleded, though, that Israeli links with Pretoria during the Apartheid years account for the unwelcoming behavior.

“Israel’s security and military relations with the Apartheid government is not a secret – although Israel never supported Apartheid – but for the ANC and many South Africans, it [this relationship] is not forgotten,” he said.

While in Johannesburg, the MKs met with the leaders of the local Jewish community and with Jewish Agency representatives, as well as with families who are about to immigrate to Israel. They also visited King David High School Linksfield and met with Jewish students, youth movement leaders, and alumni of Masa Israel Journey.

In Cape Town, the tour included the South African Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Centre, and the local Herzlia School, and on Shabbos the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation (Gardens Shul), the oldest synagogue in South Africa and one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Throughout their time in South Africa, the delegates were accompanied by representatives of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation, IUA-UCF (Keren Hayesod), and the Embassy of Israel in Pretoria, who helped organize the visit.

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