First-ever delegation of MKs visits South Africa
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First-ever delegation of MKs visits South Africa

Lawmakers meet with politicians from the ruling and opposition parties, visit South African Jewish communities

Israeli lawmakers and South African Jewish leaders meet with ANC party official and African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, center, in Johannesburg on August 14, 2017. (Embassy of Israel in South Africa)
Israeli lawmakers and South African Jewish leaders meet with ANC party official and African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, center, in Johannesburg on August 14, 2017. (Embassy of Israel in South Africa)

A group of Israeli Knesset members returned from a visit to South Africa this week, the first-ever such delegation of lawmakers to visit the country, the Jewish Agency said in a statement Thursday.

During their trip, the lawmakers met with a number of South African political figures, including former president Kgalema Motlanthe and African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife and a possible candidate to replace him as the head of the African National Congress party in the next elections.

In addition to officials from the ruling ANC, the Israeli delegation also met with figures from the opposition Democratic Alliance, including party leader Mmusi Maimane, who visited Israel in January.

Maimane came under fire from the ANC for his trip to Israel, with the party of Nelson Mandela accusing him of supporting Israeli “apartheid.”

Mmusi Maimane, who heads South Africa's Democratic Alliance party (screen grab Facebook)
Mmusi Maimane, who heads South Africa’s Democratic Alliance party (screen grab Facebook)

The Israeli MKs also met with Jewish community leaders in Johannesburg and Cape Town and visited a number of Jewish sites.

Among the lawmakers on the trip were Zionist Union MKs Nachman Shai, Zouheir Bahloul and Michal Biran, and Likud MKs Nurit Koren and Amir Ohana.

Shai, who led the trip, said the week-long visit emphasized “the ties that bind the Jewish people worldwide,” while also praising the South African Jewish communities’ “devotion and attachment to Israel.”

“The delegation’s visit and meetings with the Jewish community dealt with the ties that bind the Jewish people worldwide, including Israel and the South African Jewish community,” he said in a statement.

“The community’s devotion and attachment to Israel left a deep impression on us. South African Jewry’s connection to Zionism and to Israel are the community’s hallmarks, positioning it in a place of honor among the world’s Jewish communities,” Shai added.

Josh Schwarcz, the secretary-general of the Jewish Agency, said the aim of the visit was to strengthen ties between Israeli leaders and the Diaspora.

“This is part of the Jewish Agency’s ongoing joint initiative with the Knesset to bring dozens of MKs and Israeli government decision makers to Jewish communities worldwide,” he said. “These visits are critical to strengthening the bonds with Israel and to deepening Israeli leaders’ understanding of the challenges facing the Diaspora.”

South Africa’s Jewish community, which numbers some 70,000 people, has seen an uptick in immigration to Israel in recent years, according to the Jewish Agency.

Then-Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at an African National Congress rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)
Then-Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at an African National Congress rally in Hamas’s honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)

While Israel and South Africa had close relations during the apartheid era, relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have become fraught over the latter’s harsh criticism of Israeli policies and its staunch support for the Palestinians.

In 2015, the ANC hosted the then-leader of the Hamas terror group’s political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, a move protested by Israel.

The ANC has also announced its intention to downgrade its embassy in Israel to an “interest office” and is working to derail an October meeting in Togo between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and African leaders.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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