Under fire from the local pro-Palestinian fraternity over a recent visit to Israel, Congress of the People (COPE) leader, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota has sought to play down concerns of alleged support for the Zionist state. Lekota was joined on the trip by party leaders of the IFP, ACDP, UDM and Freedom Front Plus on a “study tour” of Israeli and Palestine, aimed at gauging the state of South Africa’s relations with both countries. The COPE leader has acknowledged the trip was paid for by the ‘Friends of Israel’, a South African organisation comprising local citizens with close ties and interests in the region.
Speaking to VOC’s Drivetime on Monday, Lekota assured that the tour included visits to both Israel and Palestinian territories, with the party firm that it wanted the freedom to “meet with all institutions involved”.
“One must understand that the reason SA established relations with Israel and Palestine is because after we democratised this country, and after a long history of a closed relationship with the PLO, we felt that SA had to play a role that would promote a resolution to the Middle East problem through peaceful means,” he said.
In this regard, he said it was imperative that as an opposition party COPE monitor the extent of the country’s operations, both in Tel Aviv and Ramallah (where briefings were held with SA ambassadors).
“This trip was not just to visit Israel. We met leaders of the Jewish Israeli community and with the Palestinian community in Israel. We met not only the Israeli ruling party’s people, but with other people in the government, supporters of it and so on, as well as opposition parties in the Knesset,” Lekota said, aiming to eradicate suggestions of bias.
Attempting to quote former South African president, Nelson Mandela, Lekota said there was no way the country could have an active involvement in peace negotiations in the region if it stuck to supporting only one side.
While the ruling party has often voiced its support of the Palestinian cause, although with no formal legislation on the matter, Lekota said those under the guise that South Africa was supportive of an Israeli boycott were certainly not aware of the countries international policy on the Middle East.
While fellow struggle veterans who have visited the region and compared the situation as being “far worse than the darkest days of Apartheid”, the COPE head was not as convinced.
“In the darkest days of apartheid we could never sit in the same assembly as the rulers of our country as we are sitting today…on the streets the buses and bus stops were segregated. You will not see that there,” said a noticeably irked Lekota.
The five-party tour officially returned home on Friday. VOC