Members of Knesset made history last week when they participated in the first official visit by Israeli lawmakers to South Africa. 

A delegation of Members of Knesset (MK) returned last week from a weeklong official visit to South Africa – the first such trip by Israeli lawmakers to that country.

The trip included high-level discussions with leaders from throughout South African society as well as a series of meetings aimed at deepening the Israeli lawmakers’ familiarity with South African Jewry.

MKs Zouheir Bahloul, Michal Biran, Nurit Koren and Amir Ohana were members of the delegation, led by Dr. Nachman Shai.

The five Members of Knesset—representing both the coalition and the opposition—met with senior political figures from across the political spectrum, including former President Kgalema Motlanthe and former minister and chairperson of the African Union Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, both of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, whose members have repeatedly expressed hostility towards the Jewish State.

The Israelis also met with Opposition Leader Mmusi Maimane and Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba of the Democratic Alliance (DA), accompanied by Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Lior Keinan.

The Israeli legislators visited the South African parliament in Cape Town and met with counterparts from a range of parties, including the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the Congress of the People and the African Christian Democratic Party.

In Johannesburg, the lawmakers visited the leaders of the local Jewish community and Jewish Agency representatives, as well as with families who are about to immigrate to Israel. At King David  High School’s Linksfield campus, they met with Jewish students, youth movement leaders and alumni of Masa Israel Journey.

In Cape Town, the MKs visited the South African Jewish Museum, the Holocaust Centre and the local Herzlia School, and they celebrated Shabbat at the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation (Gardens Shul), the oldest synagogue in South Africa and one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere.

‘A Place of Honor Among the World’s Jewish Communities’

MK Dr. Nachman Shai , who co-chairs the Knesset Caucus for Strengthening the Jewish World and led the delegation, stated that “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. 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.”

Numbering some 70,000, the South African Jewish community is the largest in Africa and the 10th-largest outside Israel, with the majority of Jews residing in Johannesburg and Cape Town. In recent years, Aliyah [immigration to Israel] from South Africa has been steadily increasing, and for the first time Israel has become the top destination for Jewish emigrants from that country.

In 2016, the Jewish Agency opened a Project TEN center in Durban, bringing young Jews from Israel and around the world to volunteer with local children in the fields of informal education, sustainable agriculture and public health.

While the Jewish community is very pro-Israel, the South African government is not, and in many cases acts with outright hostility against the Jewish state.

South Africa’s ruling ANC has recently called on African nations to boycott the forthcoming Africa-Israel Summit, a four-day event in Togo that begins on October 23 and is a key component of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid “to bring Israel back to Africa in a big way.”

By: United with Israel Staff