Home | Global News | DA Trip to Middle East: The unanswered question

DA Trip to Middle East: The unanswered question

Ebrahim Moosa – Opinion | 19 Rabi uth Thani 1437/18 January 2017


The words of the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party were unmistakeable.

“I will state this categorically for our Muslim South Africans, that I don’t have an agenda that is linked to any lobby group, designed for partisan relations in the Middle East”.

Mmusi Maimane was speaking at the Radio Islam International mobile studio at the IEC results centre in Tshwane in the build-up to the release of the 2016 municipal election results.

The interview was energetic and robust, and Maimane’s statements were captured on camera and in writing.

Why these minute details are of relevance now stems from the Democratic Alliance’s refusal to convincingly answer a single straightforward question regarding the logistics of the visit of its party representatives to Israel and parts of the occupied Palestinian territories last week.

“Who funded this trip, made the logistical arrangements and set your itinerary?” is the question I have recurrently put to a number of party spokespeople and representatives on social media over the last while.

In all instances, barring the babble of trolls, the requests have been met with silence.

On Tuesday, DA Chief Whip in Parliament and a member of the party’s delegation to the Middle East, John Steenhuisen, faced the same question – but this time on air. Due to the nature of the medium, he was compelled to respond:

“It[the trip] was privately funded – that’s all I’m prepared to say,” Steenhuisen told Moulana Sulaimaan Rawat curtly during an interview on Radio Islam.

When pressed to at least exclude Zionist lobby groups from the potential list of the trip’s funders, Steenhuisen interjected:

“It was a privately funded trip – no government money was spent, no public money was spent, no money of the Palestinian or Israeli government was spent – that’s all I’m prepared to say”.

“But, you do understand that that kind of response is fuelling speculation,” weighed Moulana Rawat, “a perception that this may have been funded by entities and individuals that wanted to push a pro-Israeli narrative?”

“It can fuel it as much as it wants. That is the response,” Steenhuisen insisted.

“It was a privately funded trip. We are not required to disclose to anybody who paid for this trip”.

In his response to this doggedness, co-panellist on the discussion, Naeem Jeenah of the Afro Middle East Centre was emphatic in underlining the inadequacy of such a stance.

“It’s fine to say that the trip was privately funded – that simply means that it was not paid for by the South African government, the Palestinian authority or the Israeli government. Ok, fine. But, we know we have a big Palestinian lobby in South Africa. We also have a big pro-Israeli lobby in South Africa. Private funding could come from any of them”.

Jeenah went on to cite the reactions of Zionist entities to the visit and their expressions of support as striking hints towards the sponsorship of the trip.

“Now, when you accept funding from a group that supports one side in any conflict, you can’t pretend that it is balanced”.

Indeed, as the late scholar Edward Said pointed out, already in 2001, “free trips” for influential journalists and others to Israel represented a hallmark of hasbara or pro-Israel propaganda propounded by Zionist lobby groups.

On its website, the South African Zionist Federation(SAZF), lists as one of the functions of its outreach arm, the South African Friends of Israel(SAFI), the provision of “influential decision makers a first-hand experience of what Israel is about by taking varied delegations to Israel and arranging important networking opportunities for these people to engage with our community”.

Many such ‘fact-finding’ trips to Israel have indeed been taking place, including from South Africa, wherein the Zionist lobby were shown to be the financiers. For instance, in February 2016, “eight prominent South African journalists, economists, and professors” were hosted to purportedly “get an “unvarnished look at Israel’s complexities”. As the Times of Israel reported, the tour was funded by the South African Zionist Federation and the World Zionist Organisation’s Department of Zionist Operations.

The Democratic Alliance can choose to continue stonewalling questions about the “private funding” of this visit, but it should realise whatever has been publicly reported of the visit leaves the discerning observer with little to counter suspicions that Zionists had been instrumental in the trip’s organisation.

A DA statement aimed at repudiating allegations that no attempt was made to arrange meetings during the trip with Palestinian leadership, commendably produces email evidence of a liaison with the office of Mahmud Abbas seeking an appointment. However, what the paper trail conveniently omits is the identity of the sender of these requests.

Furthermore, the statement references telephone discussions that occurred between January 5-8 that took place between the acting PA President’s protocol office and the “tour organizers”. The mention of the tour organisers as an entity distinct from the DA here also makes for interesting reading.

The interview conducted by Maimane spokesperson Mabine Seabe on 702 explaining the rationale of the visit again raised further questions on the autonomy the DA delegation enjoyed during its stay.

When quizzed by Redi Thladi on the reason the DA leader posed with Netanyahu without objecting to the use of the South African flag as a backdrop, Seabe’s first response was that the DA was “not going to dictate the terms” on which the meeting was held. He subsequently argued that the DA did not find the presence of the flag problematic, even though Maimane was not officially representing the government.

However, from all the public records of the trip presently available, perhaps the most significant detail pointing to a Zionist lobby role in the co-ordination of the visit comes from the South African Jewish Report(SAJR) account of the DA visit to Israel.

Whilst the DA has made little official mention of those who accompanied Maimane on the trip, the SAJR write-up provides full details of the names and credentials of the delegation.

The DA delegation, it was revealed, consisted of Party Leader Mmusi Maimane, Chief Whip John Steenhuisen, spokesperson on trade and industry, Geordin Hill-Lewis and MP Michael Bagraim. The delegation, it is added, was accompanied by “Alan Fischer”. A photo of the entire group meeting Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog was also posted.

This is where it gets interesting.

Whilst all of the individuals hold official designations within the DA, little is known of Alan Fischer, moreso of his connection in any official capacity with the DA.

But of the little that is known however, it is manifestly evident that Fischer is an avid Zionist who has been outspoken in his advocacy for Israel.

Fischer, reported the Cape Jewish Chronicle in 2012, is the Cape Town coordinator of Fairplay SA, a body established as a joint venture between the Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation, to combat “the assault against Israel’s legitimacy being waged by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.”

According to Fisher there is no respite in the criticism of Israel and “South Africa has become one of the epicentres of the BDS movement…The crime of apartheid forms the foundation of the BDS libel…………and anyone fighting against Israel is fighting on the side of good versus evil”.

Fischer also spoke at the second annual Israel Advocacy Seminar arranged by the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) in 2012 wherein he stressed the importance of Jewish organisations working with pro-Israel Christian groups and the need to combine social justice activities and Israel advocacy in South Africa’s townships.

As an activist with a sworn allegiance to one of the parties in the conflict, Fischer’s accompaniment of the delegation flies directly in the face of Maimane’s claim not to have an agenda “that is linked to any lobby group, designed for partisan relations in the Middle East” and makes for inconvenient explaining for a party feigning neutrality on the conflict.

It’s far easier to simply parrot the hollow lullaby of listening, learning and private spending.

It may be true that no public funds were used for this trip, but still, this visit comes to South Africa at a high cost.

One simply has to look towards the political landscape of the United States to understand this peril.

Over the years, scores of state and local officials, legislative staffers, and labour and community leaders in that country have gone on similar all-expense-paid trips to Israel, with business-class flights and accommodation in four-star hotels.

Special interests cover the cumulative hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for the junkets, whose aim is to indoctrinate civic and political leaders with a one-sided, uncritical view of Israel.

But in a sense, argues activist Jeff Klein, ordinary citizens actually pay.

“Nearly every member of Congress has been on a privately funded propaganda trip to Israel and the result is a never-ending stream of biased resolutions in favour of Israel that has made the US government an international laughingstock. This costs us lots of money…

“At more than $3 billion in annual payments from American taxpayer funds, Israel is by far the largest recipient of US foreign aid, far outstripping what is spent for genuinely needy countries. Earlier this month[November 2015], Netanyahu was in Washington seeking an increase of US aid to $5 billion annually. Is this the best use of our scarce governmental resources when there are so many unmet needs at home?

“It is reasonable for public officials to travel abroad when there is a genuine policy or legislative concern. But if so, they should use public, not special-interest funds to pay for it.

“Privately paid junkets to Israel, he concludes, “may be technically legal, but they carry more than a whiff of public influence-buying. This is wrong – and ultimately it is we the taxpayers who foot the bill.”

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