A furore has erupted over remarks made by the City of Johannesburg’s MMC for Health and Social Development, Dr Mpho Phalatse regarding Israel, when she publicly declared that the ‘City and herself were now friends of Israel’.
According to reports, Phalatse is said to have been suspended by Mayor Herman Mashaba following the barrage of criticism in which the MMC had also tried to explain and contextualise her stance and statement under the letterheads of the Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, an indication she might have been mandated to do so.
Phalatse declared her support for Israel during a celebration to mark 70 years of the re-founding of the state of Israel, which was a function organised by South African Friends of Israel and held at the City Hall in downtown Johannesburg on Sunday, 10 June and attended by leaders of various churches, including the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the Reverend Kenneth Meshoe and the Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Lior Keinan.
“If we profess to follow Christianity which was founded by a certain Jewish man, Jesus Christ, then we should not hate the State of Israel. As a Christian that I am, I would like to publicly declare that I am a friend of Israel and that the City of Johannesburg is also a friend of Israel,” said Phalatse.
This was after she had apologised on behalf of the executive mayor of the City for not attending the function as he had other commitments to attend to.
Following this public declaration, at a time when the South African government has recalled its ambassador to Israel and is considering a further downgrade of its embassy in Tel Aviv, Phalatse has come under fire from various sectors of society in the country, including elements in social media for what has been described as ‘careless remarks’ made by the MMC.
Reports said she was suspended in a council session today (12 June 2018) and Mashaba is quoted as saying he was disappointed that Phalatse had attributed her personal remarks to the City of Joburg.
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The South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ communications head Charisse Zeifert has condemned the attacks on Phalatse which she said were similar to criticism levelled against DJ Black Coffee when he decided to go and perform in Israel.
“Now Dr Mpho Phalatse, MMC for the DA in Gauteng, has become the target of hysterical condemnation for having expressed support for Israel at a South African Friends of Israel conference on Sunday. This is despite her subsequent clarification that she did so in her personal capacity.”
Zeifert said, “It is all part of an environment in which Israel is being demonised to a degree that bears no relationship to reality. The propagandist whipping up of emotion aims at ensuring that only one opinion on the subject will be allowed, with anyone who disagrees with that narrow-minded, usually agenda-driven, opinion becoming a target for vilification.
“This is an unacceptable situation. Ours is a democracy that entitles every one of us to hold and express differing opinions. We call on all South Africans to stand up against those who resort to bullying and intimidation to prevent others from exercising that inalienable right.”