Transcript of press briefing with Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela
[Extract of section dealing with Thuli Madonsela speaking at the Israel United Appeal – United Communal Fund]
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA (19m22s): These people that have just decided that they are going to attack me from all corners has suddenly found an interest in my association with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). Interestingly they are aware that I have been dealing with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies for the last seven years and the highlight of that relationship was last year when the SAJBD awarded me the Chivas award in honour of Chief Rabbi Harris and there was no problem. They did not complain about it and they went yesterday and issued a statement, incidentally after one of them enquired in my office about what I was doing in Durban but they did not bother to collect the information properly.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: Firstly, the reason that we have never critiqued Advocate Madonsela’s relationship with the Jewish community is because we have no problem with that.Secondly, our issue is with her relationship, or any other public official’s relationship with, a pro-Israeli organisation, whose primary aim (other than some local initiatives) is to fundraise for the State of Israel as well as defend and advance the interests of the Israeli Government. A quick visit to the website of the IUA-UCF confirms this. The IUA-UCF website boasts regular propaganda trips to Israel, support of the Israeli Defence Forces, fighting the non-violent BDS movement, fundraising for the Israeli Government amongst other activities. Click here for more info on the IUA-UCF.
Is the Public Protector seriously defending the fact that she spoke at such an organization? That’s even more disappointing. She has the freedom to attend, no doubt, but she also had the freedom of sending a very clear message to Israel and its supporters by not attending.
Thirdly, the SAJBD that the Public Protector lauds is a problematic organisation in itself. Not because it’s a Jewish community organisation but because it has become an Israeli lobby group more than a community organisation. In her seven years of engagement with the SAJBD has the PP ever engaged with progressive Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP) or the South African Jews for a Free Palestine (SAJFP). Advocate Madonsela will find that there are many within the Jewish community who refuse to let the SAJBD be the sole representative of the Jewish community. One of the reasons that these Jews resist the SAJBD talking of their behalf is the SAJBD’s blind support for Israel.Fourthly, one of the leaders of the SAJBD, which Madonsela praises, was implicated in a violent assault of two young female activists. We wonder whether, in all her engagements, the PP thought it fit to raise the issue or engage with the assaulted women (click here for COSATU press statement on the issue)
Finally, we maintain that the issue at hand is not the PP’s interaction with the Jewish community or the SAJBD, but her participation at an event of the IUA-UCF.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: And then I was accused of having fundraised for Israel. Just an honest assessment of the event, an honest assessment of my invitation which some in my office had access to would have clearly clarified that the event had nothing to do with supporting Israel. The event was called to fundraise for an old age home in Durban and they presented slides on the old age home, the condition of the old age home, and testimonials from residents of the old age home and indicated exactly what they wanted to do with the money which was going as a donation to that centre. But secondly, the invitation to the Public Protector was very clear, we even issued a media statement, regarding that event. As we normally do. Clearly indicating that I will speak on the powers of the Public Protector, the role of the public protector and how can the public work with the public protector to protect the people. That’s all I spoke about.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: Our criticism was never about being at a fundraiser for charity or a Jewish event; it was about being at a fundraiser hosted by the IUA-UCF. The host, not the type of event or its guests were the problem.
It is perhaps like being at a fundraiser for an old age home hosted by the National Party (NP) during the 1980s and when questioned about having accepted an invite of the NP your defence is that it was just about an old age home hosted by a group from within the Afrikaner community. Speaking at an Afrikaans community event is one thing, speaking at an event of the National Party, regardless of your topic, is quite another matter.
Imagine, during the 1930s speaking at a fundraiser for an old age home hosted by the Nazi supporting party. Would Advocate Thuli Madonsela have seriously responded by saying that she was simply at a charity event of the German community?
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: Now the Constitution is very clear that the Public Protector must be accessible to all citizens and communities. There is no provision in that constitution to those that are attacking me that says: “no Jews allowed”, there is no provision in the Constitution that says “if you are a friend of Israel the public protector must not be accessible to you”.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: It’s disappointing that the Public Protector is making this into a religious issue and that she is (perhaps deliberately) conflating the Jewish community with the State of Israel.
The Public Protector can enter into conversations with whom she wants but when she knows and willingly participates with an organization that has the primary aim of raising funds for the Apartheid Israeli state she has gone way beyond her mandate. There may be an obligation to engage with the Jewish community, but no obligation to engage with the pro-Israeli IUA-UCF.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: So good people can we stop playing this games.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: Criticism of supporting Israel, the Public Protector must understand, is legitimate. For the Public Protector to reduce it to “playing games” is at best naive and patronising but at worst it’s a deliberate tactic to move attention away from the Public Protector’s support of Israel.
The Public Protector, more than anyone, knows the value she brought (or any other high profile brings) in attending, supporting and speaking at a fundraising event of the IUA-UCF – regardless of the topic of her speech. This is not a game that is being played but legitimate criticism that is being raised.
We would have hoped that the Public Protector would have had the maturity to respond to this criticism in a serious, engaging and respectful manner.
This response from the Public Protector is highly patronising. It is in the same vein as the PP unfairly attacking and making baseless accusations against BDS SA – suggesting that the organisation is anti-Semitic, is being used by handlers who are paying us to criticise her, and that our activists are trying to distract her from her work and a certain report in particular. Click here for more info.
The public protector’s participation at any event of the pro-Israeli IUA-UCF is utterly unacceptable for someone who occupies the lofty office that she does. Dismissing our complaint as games and hysteria seems to be an attempt to deflect from the central issue. She appeared at and spoke in support of an organization whose primary purpose is to garner financial and political support for the Apartheid Israeli state.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: It happens a lot where there is an investigation that people are not happy about. That people start lighting a fire behind my back and we have seen people go to police stations accusing me of being a spy and I’m now being accused of being a supporter of Israel.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: What is bizarre is that the Public Protector suggests (and she repeats this later) that we are worried about an investigation of hers. We put it on record, that we categorically reject any assertion that we have concerns about her investigations and demand that the Public Protector provides concrete evidence to back up such claims, allegations and assertions.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: For goodness sake, firstly, I am on record as supporting a two state solution for Palestine, I’m on record as having spoken about the need for justice for everyone, for social justice in Palestine and I’m now being accused of endorsing what the Israeli ambassador said when he said it’s important that Israel allows dialogue. What could be wrong with that statement because the ambassador was right that the solution to the problems that we see in the Middle East and here in this country is dialogue, honest dialogue and a commitment to social justice. Yes, I endorse those views of the [Israeli] ambassador. I have no problems with Israel. People have problems with Israel, that’s their constitutional right to have.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: On Israel the Public Protector is, on the one hand, promoting the Israeli ambassador’s version of apolitical “neutrality” and “dialogue” (a deliberate distraction which blunts activism and which is something encouraged by the Israeli Government). On the other hand, she has made her position quite clear when she says: “I have no problem with Israel.”
Firstly, on dialogue. BDS SA is not opposed to dialogue but we are opposed to the dialogue promoted by the Israeli regime – that of endless conversation while the human rights of Palestinians are abused, international law is violated and settlements on what was Palestinian land increase.
During the 1980s we in the anti-Apartheid struggle opposed un-ending apolitical, “neutral” dialogue with white liberals but we embraced dialogue, for example, involving our white comrades who were struggling alongside us.
We reject the dialogue of white supremacists or Zionists who merely want to pacify us into non-action, like the Israeli ambassador, but we embrace the dialogue of comrades in struggle united in our diversity, for example, the dialogue between us and our partners in SA Jews for a Free Palestine and Jewish Voices for a Just Peace (JVJP).
In 1970 Steve Biko, referred to dialogue promoted by white liberals as “tea parties” that turn out to be “a soporific on the blacks and provide a vague satisfaction for the guilty-stricken whites”. Biko, the Public Protector must agree, was no black separatist from a bygone era – he always maintained personal and political relationships with principled white allies.
If anyone is playing games, dangerous games that should be condemned, it’s the Israeli Ambassador, Embassy and Government. Dialogue is mis-used, surely the Public Protector is aware, as a way for Israel to increase its colonisation and occupation of the Palestinian people. Does the Public Protector seriously think that the Israeli government is genuinely interested in dialogue? Would the Public Protector have also supported the dialogue of an ambassador from Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s or would she have supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Apartheid South Africa?
Biko said in his essay Black Skins, White souls: “Instead of involving themselves in an all-out attempt to stamp out racism from their white society, liberals waste lots of time trying to prove to as many blacks as they can find that they are liberal. This arises out of the false belief that we are faced with a black problem. There is nothing the matter with blacks. The problem is WHITE RACISM and it rests squarely on the laps of the white society.” Likewise the problem is not a “Palestinian problem” – the problem is Israel’s apartheid policies.
We challenge the Public Protector: are you brave enough to speak out on Israel’s apartheid policies, which many of our leaders have been forthright about?
Someone that the Public Protector herself has praised, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has said: “I know firsthand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed.”
Even if one refuses to take Archbishop Tutu’s word for it, does someone of the stature of the Public Protector also dismiss legal jurist and expert Professor John Dugard who has said: “I’m a South African who lived through apartheid,” Dugard said. “I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”
Or is the Public Protector’s only point of reference the Israeli Ambassador and the Israeli Government?
Secondly, we find it shocking that the Public Protector will say: “I have no problems with Israel.” This is a country that has not only been accused of apartheid but is also accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and various violations of international law by Palestinian human rights groups as well international human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In fact, the Israeli human rights organisation, Adalah, has documented over 50 discriminatory laws in Israel – does the Public Protector not have a problem with Israel’s apartheid and discriminatory laws?
Again, is the Public Protector’s only point of reference the Israeli Ambassador and the Israeli Government?
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: For me, I am interested in justice for all, a peaceful world that includes a peaceful world and a just world for both Palestinians and Israelis. We all have a right to have a particular view of the world but please good people don’t impose it on me – not as a public protector, not as a person because as the Public Protector I am required to take a neutral stand.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: The Public Protector says much and at the same she is saying nothing of value. We remind her of Archbishop Tutu’s poignant words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
By associating with the Israel United Appeal -United Communal Fund (IUA-UCF) and then defending that relationship as well as saying that she “has no problem with Israel” the Public Protector seems to have chosen a side.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: I can’t have a sign on this building that says “no Jews allowed [or] no friends of Israel allowed”.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: No one is asking the Public Protector to have such signs on her buildings, furthermore, its plain wrong for the PP to conflate the Jewish community with the State of Israel.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: I think I needed to clear that because the schizophrenia that is taking place around all manner of accusation is trying to really distract me and my team from our work. Let those who are responsible know that we will not be distracted. We can’t be distracted we are employed to do our work and our work we will continue to do without fear or favour or prejudice.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: Its mischievous for the Public Protector to try and suggest that her support of Israel is being criticised in an attempt to distract her from her work.
Our criticism of the Public Protector’s support of Israel is no reflection of her work, it is perhaps a reflection of her character and sense of morality, but not of her work.
We repeat it again, we have no interest in delaying or distracting the Public Protector from her work on upcoming reports. It is Advocate Madonsela who chose to be at an event of the IUA-UCF – an event beyond the scope of her mandate.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: Lastly, if anyone is worried about anything, whoever you are I give you my word if you didn’t do anything wrong the report will vindicate you. Whichever report you are concerned about. If you did’t do anything wrong, then the report will vindicate you. It will be an open and transparent report like others that just talks about what really happened, what should have happened, is there a discrepancy and if there is a discrepancy is it material enough to constitute improper conduct and if so what are we sign to do about it. So please good people, jut calm down. Let’s stop with the childish games.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: Civil society and its criticism of those in power is a normal thing in a thriving democracy.
BDS SA is unapologetic for its criticism of those in power, whether its our recent criticism of DIRCO last week (click here) or our statement from two week’s ago taking on sanction busters within the ANC Youth League (click here).
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: Question asked by a journalist to the Public Protector: What is your response to assertions that your support of Israel is essentially discounting the pain and suffering of the occupied people of Palestine?
Answer by the Public Protector: Well, that’s their opinion and I disagree with them. I may disagree with some of the things that, let’s say the Botswana government does, for example I don’t agree with the death penalty in Botswana but I have been to Botswana and I have applauded the actions of the Botswana Government on the things that the Government does right. But my opinion on the death penalty is my personal opinion and it’s not fair to impose it on everyone. I’m just using Botswana as an example. I could choose any country about things that I may not disagree with and things that I agree with. I do want to say that categorically that I have no animosity towards Israel or any country. I do believe in a 2 state solution between Israel and Palestine. I do believe that both the people of Israel and the people of Palestine deserve a decent life, they deserve to have their statehood acknowledged, they deserve to have their human rights and their humanitarian law protected. If these people were really interested in my views on this matter, I have given various speeches on this matter including on just issues of observance of what I refer to as humanitarian law. You may want to check my speech that was given at the institute for cultural diplomacy in Germany last year when I dealt with these issues.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: It is absurd to compare Botswana to the State of Israel.
It is like during the 1980s to have compared Apartheid South Africa to Botswana.
Botswana may have certain issues but those issues are not the norm. In the case of Apartheid South Africa, or Israel today, the very State is a problem – Apartheid South Africa legalised discrimination against Black people, Israel has legalised discrimination against Palestinians.
ADVOCATE THULI MADONSELA: People who are attacking me for the convenience of attacking me, to be fair I don’t think this thing has anything to do with Israel. I said so when somebody from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies approached me to apologies for bringing me into this and my response to Mary Kluk was “I am the one who has to apologise to you because you have been hit in the crossfire”. I believe that this has nothing to do with Israel, I think that this is just an attack that has been unleashed on me and this office.
BDS SOUTH AFRICA’S RESPONSE: For the Public Protector to reduce this to an issue that people have with her as an individual is disempowering as she then paints herself as a victim who is under “attack”. The Public Protector is a public official who should welcome criticism and engage with activists.
Finally, BDS SA would state the following: We have to conclude that both, her tacit support of Israel and her attack on our NGO, were deliberate as she is not naive; she is a competent, intelligent and capable advocate fluent on various topics including Palestine (one of the biggest international moral issues of our time which she has herself admitted that she has spoken and written on before).
A more measured response from the Public Protector would have been that she was not aware of the extent of the Israel United Appeal – United Communal Fund’s involvement with Israel, that she registers the criticism and apologises for bringing the office of the Public Protector into disrepute now that she is aware of the pro-Israeli work of the IUA-UCF. However, she seems to not only be defending and justifying her relationship with the Israel United Appeal – United Communal Fund (IUA-UCF) but also attacking and reducing criticism of that relationship to mere “hysteria”.