After publicly declaring herself and the City of Johannesburg as friends of Israel, member of the mayoral committee (MMC) for health Mpho Phalatse has been suspended.
City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba announced the suspension during a council session on Tuesday saying the issue of the conflict in Israel was a complex one that required a sensitive approach.
“The MMC’s remarks didn’t adequately address the complexity and sensitivity of the issue. They instead caused confusion,” said Mashaba, who also expressed his disappointment at Phalatse’s attribution of her personal views to the city.
Phalatse declared herself and the city as “friends of Israel” on Sunday at the SA Friends of Israel 2018 National Conference.
A video of Phalatse’s declarations has been making the rounds on social media, drawing sharp criticism.
Phalatse’s declaration sent political parties into a frenzy with the ANC strongly condemning her actions and “unequivocally” distancing themselves from her utterances.
“As the ANC in Johannesburg, we reiterate our solidarity with the heroic people of Palestine. We condemn Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the systematic oppression meted out to the Palestinian people for decades,” read the statement.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Johannesburg Region, which runs the city in a coalition with Phalatse’s party, the Democratic Alliance, asked that Mashaba remove Phalatse from the mayoral committee as her comments were “deeply disturbed” and “chronically incompetent”.
The EFF also said the sentiments uttered by Phalatse were “juvenile” and showed ignorance in regards to the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, an action the party deemed as “reducing the entire City to Trump’s level of political illiteracy”.
Phalatse was, however, not short of sympathisers with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) denouncing the decision taken by Mashaba and saying Phalatse was a target of “hysterical condemnation”.
The board said Mashaba employed a “totalitarian strategy” to handle the matter as Phalatse’s suspension “silences those with dissenting views”.
“These are just the most recent instances of attempts to silence South Africans who challenge the anti-Israel narrative. It is all part of an environment in which Israel is being demonised to a degree that bears no relationship to reality,” spokesperson Charisse Zeifert said in a statement.
Phalatse is not the only high-profile South African to face backlash for openly supporting Israel.
The ANC also denounced renowned DJ Black Coffee for performing in Tel Aviv in April, with the ruling party issuing a call on artists to remember the role played by the international anti-apartheid solidarity movement in the isolation of apartheid South Africa.
“The people of Palestine are in a just cause for self-determination and we urge our artists not to form part of the normalisation of Israeli’s suppression of the Palestinian people in their quest for self-determination and statehood that mirrors our very own struggle,” said the ruling party in a statement.
It said it was unfortunate that Black Coffee’s performance in Tel Aviv occured on the same weekend that saw more than a dozen Palestinian protesters shot dead, and more than a thousand wounded, by Israeli forces.
According to Mashaba, Phalatse will be suspended pending an investigation “into the full and proper context in which those remarks were aired”.