By Anees Teladia
With elections approaching in both South Africa and Israel, South Africans concerned with the occupation in Palestine and the stability in the Middle Eastern region need to be cognisant of their electoral choices.
A 2018 report by Freedom House – an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world – states that residents of the Gaza Strip are severely lacking civil and political rights. Israel’s many military incursions, the de facto blockade and violations of the rule of law have resulted in a population within Gaza that is under extreme hardship.
“Israel imposed tighter restrictions during the year on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, including non-governmental organization (NGO) and humanitarian workers, pushing the number of crossings to their lowest level since 2014 – the year of the most recent major conflict between Hamas and Israeli forces,” according to the 2018 Freedom House report on key developments in 2017, in Gaza.
Further, in another report of 2018 on the West Bank, Freedom House unequivocally states that “the West Bank is under Israeli military occupation.”
Thus, with all considered, the question remains: how is this relevant to me, as a South African voter?
Speaking to Mr Martin Jansen, Chairperson of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in Cape Town, the notion of South African elections not being relevant to the occupation in Palestine and the Middle Eastern region’s stability was refuted.
“I think it’s [national and provincial elections] vital, because what happens every five years is that the parties appeal to the populace to support them.”
“All the parties are contesting for peoples’ support…it’s a great opportunity to raise the issue of Palestine and the failure on the part of all political parties in providing tangible and meaningful support to the liberation of Palestine,” said Jansen.
Power of the vote
Engaging on the question of the populace underestimating the impact of their votes – particularly on the international community – Jansen commented that people generally do underestimate the power of the vote.
There is a misconception by the public that votes don’t directly affect Palestine.
“I think generally they underestimate the power of votes in terms of democracy in SA as well [as the international community] and that’s partly because they are atomised, people operate as individuals,” said Jansen.
“That’s the one major weakness in voting in the way that we do. But if people operate as a collective and come together in organisations and make decisions about which party to support and why, and even enter into some kind of contract with that party, we can ensure that if they do get into power, they are obliged to deliver on certain promises made.”
“So, in that sense, votes could be quite powerful, but there needs to be organised constituencies before they can make meaningful change.”
According to a press statement by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), there has been a worryingly high number of unregistered eligible individuals.
“Based on the latest voting age population estimates from Statistics South Africa, the current voters’ roll reflects a total registration by 74.5 percent of the eligible population.”
“The Commission remains concerned that approximately 9.8 million eligible voters are still not registered of which approximately 6 million are under 30 years old,” said the IEC.
Thus, the number of eligible, unregistered voters, as well as those registered but who plan to abstain, need to consider the plight of people around the world.
Voters need to ask themselves which party would be most likely to effect positive change, or at the very least influence international politics for Palestine and the Middle East, in a positive way.
In an article written in the South African Jewish Report, the question of whether policy pertaining to Israel matters to the electorate in South Africa was addressed by DA MP and shadow minister of labour, Michael Bagraim.
“Israel has never been a real issue in the Western Cape. We see so much press on this ‘wedge issue’ that we thought it would make a difference in , but in fact, it wasn’t taken up by the Muslim community.”
It is clear then that the DA doesn’t regard the Palestinian issue as serious, partly because Muslims in South Africa – who for the most part claim to support Palestine – don’t account for their support through their voting choices.
More political engagement needed
Jansen called upon the South African public to increase political engagement ahead of elections.
“We are calling on our people to attend the election rallies and meetings of the various parties, and pose the question about what are they [political parties] doing to support the Palestinian struggle for liberation and secondly whether they would support legislation or measures to be legislated in favour [of] and supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.”
“There is a Johannesburg attorney who has assisted and taken the initiative in drafting a bill for legislation. It’s a bill which outlines in detail, measures for government and the private sector as well as institutions such as universities, to enforce boycotts divestment and sanctions.”
“What we are hoping is that before and after the elections, that this document can be submitted to parliament for the various parties and representatives to discuss it, with the hope that the majority will adopt it.”
“We have no doubt that certain parties will oppose it such as the DA/ACDP because they are traditionally supportive of Israel and Zionism.”
“That’s the kind of pressure we need from our people,” said Jansen.