Netanyahu vs Gantz… But What About The Palestinians?

By Zizipho Ndevu

 Israel’s national elections took place on 9 April 2019 and analysts expect it to be a close finish between current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu polling at 37% of the vote and his opponent form the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz polling at 35%, a tight race it is indeed as Israelis wait to hear whom President Reuven Rivlin will endorse as the Prime Minister. As we build up to our very own elections in South Africa scheduled for May I can understand the anticipation Israelis are feeling as they wait for results but I must say that my heart is even more concerned about the 4.8 million Palestinians in Israel who weren’t able to vote in a state that is termed by the media as an apartheid regime. 

Many members of the Jewish community say that framing it as an Apartheid state is not fair, they argue that Israel is a fully functioning democracy, but if a large portion of the population in Israel aren’t able to vote because they are not Jewish, then what should we call it? 

As a black South African girl raised in a Jewish home and by extension the frum (religious) Jewish community for a great deal of my upbringing, I am feeling twisted and conflicted about the realities of the millions of Palestinians who are living in a country and a system that doesn’t acknowledge them as citizens or people. I struggle to piece together this story and identify where one part ends and another one begins the more, I look at it the more I understand why the current dynamics in East Jerusalem and West Bank are just as undefined as their borders. 

I remember going to synagogue and being so welcomed by the Rabbi and his wife and being so integrated into the life and activities of the synagogue that I would join the Rabbi’s family for lunch after his sermon and would often be asked by the Rabbi’s wife to teach the children about Pesach and the twelve plagues during the children’s service. However,  in the same breath, I also remember accompanying my Jewish friends to lunches and dinners where they forgot to mention that their black friend was their plus one, I mean, why would they, it shouldn’t matter right? And although unplanned, I would find myself being the centre of a conversation about whether the Torah allows for a non-Jew (me) to eat at the Shabbas table and I would constantly be asked when I was going to convert. 

I am also conflicted as a South African who has the right to vote because of the many people who died fighting for their belief that all South Africans are equal. They died so that I have the right to choose whom I want to be, what God I want to serve and which party I want to vote for. Years after Apartheid we are still repairing our land, relationships and the spirit of the nation as we try desperately to not let the rainbow nation die or face the unspoken truth that we were sold a lie and that it never really existed. 

South Africa is far from perfect and these days it seems that a new beast raises its head to deter us from the path of the dream our ancestors sold us, yet we continue to survive and charge forward on into the future with a total of 14.7 million South African registered to vote in May. 

This community of voters is made up of all races and religious groups all of whom do not first have to be part of any religious community to earn their right to vote. Many South Africans whether part of the Jewish community or not support the current hostility Palestinians face in Israel and will argue that their cause is righteous because God promised them that land while they enjoy in South Africa the very rights, they are depriving others in Israel. 

All of this made me reminiscent of the many times as a South African, as a black woman in the circle of a community that enjoyed the legal right to build homes, raise children, and worship the God of their choice, if I belonged at their Shabbas table that is in my own country!?

Palestinians protesting for the right to self-determination

I cannot control or determine election results in Israel, but I can be an active, tolerant, and informed citizen in my country. I can make a choice to say no to xenophobia and racism in my own country even if I can’t neatly classify political dynamics in another. I can make a choice to accept those around me who don’t fit into my racial or religious circle, just like my former Rabbi did even when his congregants criticized him for it. I can vow to open my door to those who are different without expecting them to first become like me to gain my respect and a seat at my table.

Zizipho Ndevu works as an analyst for a risk management firm located in Johannesburg where she provides political and security analysis to global clients operating in Southern and West Africa. She holds her honors degree in Political and International Relations and is passionate about storytelling and stimulating debate


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