The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas sent a delegation to South Africa earlier this week. The delegation, led by head of Hamas’ politburo Khaled Meshal and his deputy Mousa Abu Marzouk, met with senior officials from the African National Congress (ANC), including South African president Jacob Zuma. The ANC reportedly signed a “letter of intent” with Hamas to build a long-lasting relationship with the organization. The Israeli government expressed “shock and outrage” over the visit.
While Israel’s outrage may be understandable, its shock is misplaced. Pretoria has been building ties with Hamas for years.
Last year, five representatives of the Lebanon-based al-Quds International Foundation, an organization sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for “being controlled by and acting for or on behalf of Hamas,” traveled to South Africa to participate in programs across the country. The group also sent Hamas operative Abdul Aziz Umar to South Africa in 2012 to promote the release of Hamas prisoners. Umar has been identified by Israel as the mastermind behind a 2003 Hamas suicide bombing operation in Jerusalem.
In 2007, South Africa's intelligence minister, Ronnie Kasrils, invited Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, to lead a delegation to South Africa. Kasrils demanded that the international community lift the embargo imposed against Hamas since its electoral victory in January 2006.
The historic embrace of the Palestinian cause by South Africa’s leaders is well known. Famously, Nelson Mandela eulogized PLO leader Yasser Arafat in 2004 as “one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation.” And yet, while Mandela was critical of Israeli policy, he also recognized Israel’s right to exist.
South Africa’s warming ties with Hamas, a group that seeks Israel’s destruction, is a worrying development. During his speech in Cape Town, Meshal vowed continued Hamas violence against Israel. Neither the ANC nor the South African government has condemned this statement. This can only be interpreted as tacit approval for Hamas’s current campaign of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer