President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for solidarity, tolerance and dialogue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently raging on in the Middle East .
Some 1 200 people in Israel and a further 11 000 in Gaza have been killed since the beginning of the conflict on October 7 .
In his weekly newsletter to the nation, President Ramaphosa acknowledged that the conflict has elicited “strong emotions” from those in support of both sides but cautioned that this must not be allowed to divide South Africans .
“As the bombardment of Gaza continues, there have been pro-Palestinian demonstrations around the world, as well as those expressing solidarity with Israel .
There have been a number of such events in our own country, convened by civil society organisations, political parties and religious groupings .
“For some, the murder of Israelis and the abduction of hostages on 7 October has further hardened sentiment that Israel has the right to use whatever means at its disposal to defend itself .
At the same time, there are others who view the collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli government as a war crime .
“The conflict between Israel and Palestine has long been a polarising conflict that has deepened divisions in societies and communities way beyond the Middle East .
Yet no matter how strong our views on this matter, we must guard against this conflict turning us against each other as South Africans,” he said .
The President called on South Africans, who choose to demonstrate on the conflict, to defer from confrontations with those who oppose their views and commended those who “participated in orderly and peaceful demonstrations in several parts of our country” .
“Our Constitution protects everyone’s right to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of association and to demonstrate .
It also requires that all demonstrations must be peaceful and that freedom of expression does not extend to the advocacy of hatred based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion that constitutes incitement to cause harm .
“There is no place in South Africa for violence or threats of violence against those who hold contrary views .
Nor is there any place for any form of prejudice, racism or chauvinism .
As emotive as the Israel-Palestine issue may be for many of our citizens, particularly given our own history of discrimination and oppression, we must not let it deepen divisions between us,” President Ramaphosa said .
President Ramaphosa firmly denied any accusations that the South African government is brewing anti-Semitic rhetoric in the country .
“Successive democratic administrations have upheld the constitutional rights of all individuals and groups in this country .
We have enforced these rights through our courts, including the Equality Court, and through institutions like the South African Human Rights Commission, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, and others .
“It was disappointing therefore to read an article in a leading Israeli newspaper by a representative of a local Jewish organisation suggesting that our government is ‘encouraging pogroms’ against the South African Jewish community .
This has never happened in the history of democratic South Africa, nor will it ever be allowed to happen,” he said .
The President emphasised that government’s position on the freedom of the Palestinian people does not translate into anti-Semitism .
“As a government and as a people, we stand firm in our call for justice for the oppressed Palestinian people, for their rights and aspirations to be fulfilled, for the immediate cessation of hostilities, and for there to be accountability for the deplorable killings of civilians in this recent conflict .
We maintain that peace will not be possible until Palestinians are free .
“Yet, support for the Palestinian struggle cannot be equated with anti-Semitism .
There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, just as there is no place in our country for prejudice directed against any individual or community on the basis of race, religion, belief, political view or sexual orientation,” he said .
President Ramaphosa insisted that South Africa’s democracy, differing and divergent views are “respected and protected” by the law and citizens’ right to “advocate and demonstrate peacefully, be they pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, will continue to be upheld .
“As a people with our own painful history of discrimination, racism and prejudice, let us remember our personal duty to be tolerant and respectful of others .
“Let us promote dialogue and meaningful engagement so that, as South Africans, we may work together to support the realisation of just, peaceful and secure future for the people of both Palestine and Israel .
“Above all, let our painful history be a reminder of the heavy cost of a divided nation that has turned against itself .
When it comes to freedom, equality and justice, we must be at one,” President Ramaphosa said .