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SA Jewish Board of Deputies ‘puzzled’ by Pretoria’s ICC move against Israel

South African Jewish Board of Deputies national director Wendy Kahn.
South African Jewish Board of Deputies national director Wendy Kahn.
Image: Supplied by SAJBD.

Pro-Israeli groups in South Africa have slammed Pretoria’s decision to put through a referral for the Israel government to be investigated for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which met with the ruling party on Tuesday to discuss the conflict in the Middle East, says it is “puzzled” by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement and it is “out of kilter” with what the parties discussed this week.

SAJBD national director Wendy Kahn told TimesLIVE that the purpose of the meeting was to ask the ANC to reflect on the “hurtful” statements it made on “the massacre of Israeli civilians” carried out by Hamas on October 7 when the conflict broke out. 

“I am a little puzzled because we had a meeting with the ANC two days ago and in that meeting, at length the ANC expressed their desire to play some role in trying to resolve this horrific conflict. We had discussed ways they could regain credibility by engaging both sides and then this kind of action was announced, and it does nothing further than to drive a wedge between the parties.”

Kahn said during the meeting “everybody was on the same page in terms of wanting to find resolutions”. 

“We know that until the hostages are released, it’s extremely unlikely that any kind of ceasefire can happen. Hamas needs to release those hostages and Israel has a duty to bring the civilians that were abducted by Hamas home.” 

She said: “It’s all very well to go for these punitive actions like reporting to the ICC, threatening to close our embassy in Israel, where in actual reality, what should be done is putting pressure on Hamas. We know that our government has a relationship with Hamas.” 

The hostage situation is the real “impediment” to resolving this crisis, she said. 

“The ICC issue seems to be a sideshow because Israel is not even a signatory. Where South African can really play a role, is in getting the hostages released.”

Kahn said the board supported a two-state solution where Israel and Palestine lived side by side. 

“We need to remember that it was Hamas that started this war, they went into Israel and systematically executed 1,400 civilians. A two-state solution can only work when there are secure borders, and Israel has a right to defend itself as much as any other country.”

Pro-Israeli group SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) “condemned the supposed referral” of Israel to the ICC by South Africa. 

Director of public policy at the SAZF, Benji Shulman, said the organisation noted that, “The announcement came from Doha which is also the headquarters of Hamas. The SA Zionist Federation notes that the South African government does not hold the ICC in very high regard and has in the past refused to carry out its orders, including the arrest of Omar Al Bashir of Sudan for actual genocidal war crimes. 

“The SA Zionist Federation maintains that Israel continues to conduct its defensive war against extremist Hamas organisation in line with international law and against those who have killed women, children, holocaust survivors and have also taken 240 hostages from a variety of nationalities.”

The organisation called on the government to “do what it can” to help get the hostages released and “to stop interfering in the democratic right of Israel to defend itself”. 

Both the Palestinian ambassador to South Africa, Hanan Jarrar, and her Israeli counterpart Eliav Belotserkovsky have declined to comment on the latest developments. 

On Wednesday, President Ramaphosa announced that Pretoria has put through a referral for the Israel government to be investigated for war crimes.

“As South Africa, we — with many countries around the world — saw fit to refer this whole Israeli government action to the International Criminal Court. We have put through a referral because we believe that war crimes are being committed there. 

“Of course, we do not condone the actions that were taken by Hamas earlier, but similarly, we condemn the actions that are now under way and believe that they warrant investigation by the ICC,” he said. 

Protocols of the ICC allow member states to refer another state to the office of the ICC prosecutor, where they believe war crimes and other human rights violations are being committed. The court then  decides if it should launch a full war crimes investigation. 

The ANC has welcomed Ramaphosa’s announcement. The party said it would vote in favour of a motion that will be put forward by the EFF in parliament on Thursday, to close the Israeli embassy in South Africa.


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