The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) says the South African Jewish community will be paying tribute to Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi on Monday in celebration of his 90th birthday.
“The friendship between Dr Buthelezi and the Jewish community has been a long-standing and strong one. His ties with KwaZulu-Natal Jewry have been particularly rewarding, resulting in joint projects that have seen initiatives in the field of HIV Aids prevention and the implementation of education upliftment programmes in underprivileged areas,” a statement from the SAJBD reads.
The statement then goes on to say that Buthelezi has been a “a staunch advocate of finding a peaceful resolution for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict”.
However, some see the IFP leader as less a supporter of a “peaceful solution” than a supporter of one side of the conflict: Israel.
In 2011, he was the keynote speaker at a night to honour Israel, where he expressed his support for the country.
“I have suffered criticism for supporting Israel. South Africa’s government has made no effort to conceal the fact that it supports the Palestinian cause, and I am often both embarrassed and ashamed of the way Israel is sidelined by our country’s leaders,” he said.
“The Israeli regime is not apartheid. It is a unique case of democracy,” he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz back in 2003.
More recently, in 2015, Buthelezi was one of a few SA politicians who visited Israel on a study tour that caused controversy from those who believe the country should be isolated. This was alongside the UDM’s Bantu Holomisa, Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota, the Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Mulder and the ACDP’s Reverend Kenneth Meshoe.
Kwara Kekana of the South African wing of global pro-Palestinian movement Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) said at the time: “It is unfortunate but not surprising to see the IFP rushing to Israel’s defence. They simply don’t have a track record of internationalism or progressive international policies.”
For his part, however, Buthelezi has denied taking a one-sided stance on the conflict. In the same speech in which he had earlier declared his support for Israel, he also detailed his engagement with Palestinian diplomats.
“I have also attended a function in the Palestinian embassy when the ambassador of Palestine invited me to enjoy some Arab music at the Pretoria Theatre by singers from Palestine. What I detest is bias,” he said at his 2011 keynote speech at the Durban Jewish Centre.
Later in the same speech, Buthelezi mentioned a friendship between himself and former Israeli president the late Shimon Peres, but added he had “always warned against violence and promoted the route of negotiations”.
The SAJBD says the “SA Jewish community” will host a a “special evening” to pay tribute to Buthelezi on Monday.