The South African Friends of Israel released a statement on 12 June saying it was appalled and devastated at the chain of events which had led to the suspension of Joburg’s MMC for Health and Social Development, Dr Mpho Phalatse.
A furore has erupted over remarks made by Phalatse regarding Israel when she publicly declared that the ‘City and herself were now friends of Israel’.
She was later suspended by Executive Mayor Herman Mashaba pending an investigation.
Ben Swartz, co-chairman of the South African Friends of Israel, said Phalatse had become the target of hysterical condemnation for having expressed support for Israel, when bringing greetings on behalf of the City of Johannesburg, despite clarifying that she did so in her personal capacity.
“It is a sad day when elected officials are not free to attend events of their choosing, and express their personal religious or political views,” said Swartz. “This is indicative of the environment in which Israel is being demonised to a degree that bears no relationship to reality. “
Anti-Israel bigotry does not merely threaten the rights of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of South Africans who are passionate supporters of Israel. It also poses a serious threat to democracy in our country. Dr Mpho Phalatse has become the latest target of this totalitarian strategy.”
Mashaba told council on 12 June that he was disappointed by Phalatse’s remarks. “I will defend with my life the right to any South African to hold personal beliefs,” he said.
“I am disappointed in the attribution to the City of Johannesburg.”
Swartz called on all South Africans to condemn the decision, and appeal to the City to reinstate Phalatse with immediate effect.
“She is not deserving of this treatment, as she is a huge asset to the governance of this city,” added Swartz.
Although Mashaba said international relations was not the City’s focus, he did believe in ‘a peaceful solution to a secure and prosperous Palestine alongside a secure and prosperous Israel’.
“The matter of the conflict in the Middle East is complex and requires a sensitive approach,” he said.
“I was disappointed with the remarks because I do not feel that they adequately address conflict in the Middle East.”