City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba
The South African Friends of Israel say they are "appalled" and "devastated" after Health MMC Dr Mpho Phalatse was suspended for declaring that the City of Johannesburg was a friend of Israel.
Ben Swartz, co-chairperson of the organisation, said Phalatse had become a "target of hysterical condemnation" for expressing her support for Israel.
On Tuesday, Mayor Herman Mashaba announced Phalatse’s suspension, stating that: "The MMC's remarks didn't adequately address the complexity and sensitivity of the issue. They caused confusion."
Swartz said it was a sad day when elected officials were not able to attend events of their choosing, after Phalatse said she had been at the event in her personal capacity.
"This is indicative of the environment in which Israel is being demonised, to a degree that bears no relationship to reality," Swartz said.
"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," he said.
Swartz said the South African Friends of Israel called on South Africans to condemn Mashaba’s decision to suspend Phalatse, and for her to be reinstated immediately.
"She is not deserving of this treatment, as she is [a] huge asset to the governance of this city," he said.
Phalatse was suspended after other councillors, including some from the Economic Freedom Fighters, called for her to be fired.
Councillor Sipho Sithole described Phalatse's comments as disheartening and called for her to be "wiped out of council".
"Any African subscribed to Zionism must hang his head in shame," said Sithole.
On Tuesday, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies slammed Mashaba’s decision. They called Phalatse’s suspension a "totalitarian strategy" to silence those with dissenting views. This was despite her allegedly clarifying that she was "commenting in her personal capacity".
"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.