Palestinian terror group Hamas said Thursday that it “values” the recent statement by South African President Jacob Zuma discouraging travel to Israel, even as the head of the country’s opposition party visited Israel.
“Hamas values the stance of South African President Jacob Zuma, who called for citizens of his country not to visit the Zionist entity, showing solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said in a statement.
Zuma, the leader of the ruling African National Congress party, reiterated on Sunday Pretoria’s longstanding travel directive urging senior South African officials against visiting Israel, an announcement that came days before Mmusi Maimane, who heads the opposition Democratic Alliance party, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“The people of Palestine continue to suffer in their rightful quest for self-determination and the ANC pledges its ongoing solidarity and support for their just cause,” Zuma said in his traditional January 8 address.
“We reiterate that we firmly discourage travel to Israel for causes not related to fostering peace in the region,” Zuma said, a caveat Hamas did not mention in its statement.
Maimane arrived in Israel earlier this week on what officials called a private visit focused on building business ties. He was accompanied by three senior DA lawmakers, including Michael Bagraim, a former chair and president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.
Maimane, who has been the leader of the South African opposition since 2014, also met with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and several Foreign Ministry officials. His visit was mentioned on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s monthly list of official visits.
Both the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv declined to comment on Maimane’s visit. The South African opposition leader declined requests for interviews.
During last year’s January 8 speech, Zuma had said the party discourages “travel to Israel for ANC leaders, members and representatives for business and leisure purposes.”
Tens of thousands of South Africans ignore that instruction every year, according to a senior Israeli official.
“It is excellent that Maimane and three senior members of the DA are spending a week seeing the best of Israel,” the official told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is a chance for them to see the variety of ways Israel can partner with South Africa. It is an excellent message, days after the silly, self-defeating ANC advice not to visit Israel, which nearly 30,000 South Africans ignored in 2016, that a young, thoughtful South African leader shows a different, more balanced vision.”
In a sign of thawing ties, Zuma on Monday condemned the vehicular attack in Jerusalem that killed four Israeli soldiers. In a statement released by the South African Foreign Ministry, the president “extended the country’s condolences to the government of Israel for the attack on its four young cadet soldiers killed in the truck incident that took place yesterday in East Jerusalem.”
Pretoria, which rarely comments on terror attacks against Israelis, opposes “any violent actions particularly in as far as the Israel-Palestine conflict is concerned” and offered “assistance in restarting negotiations between the two countries,” the statement read.
“As South Africa we regard political dialogue and engagement as key in finding lasting sustainable peaceful solution and the killing of the soldiers in Jerusalem should not be a justification for continued attacks and counter attacks which will only worsen the already precarious situation,” the statement said.
Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have long been fraught over the latter’s harsh criticism of Israeli policies and its staunch support for the Palestinians. In 2015, the African National Congress hosted the leader of Hamas’s political bureau, Khaled Mashaal, a move protested by Israel.