Israel’s attack on Gaza has angered Muslims across the globe and it may play a role in who they vote for in the South African elections.

With just a few weeks left before the national and provincial elections, political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said some political parties are exploiting Israel’s war in Gaza to woo emotional Muslim voters who are at a conundrum on who to cast their ballot for.

Fakir was responding to sentiments that Muslim voters may punish the Democratic Alliance (DA) following the comments of its leader John Steenhuisen on Israel’s war in Gaza that has left over 33 000 people dead.

Israel’s attack on Gaza has angered Muslims across the globe and South Africa. Some were even more riled when Steenhuisen questioned whether genocide was being committed by Israel in Gaza.

“One man’s genocide is another man’s freedom,” said Steenhuisen when asked about the military actions of Israel in Palestine.

Will DA lose Muslim vote?

Fakir told The Citizen that while there are some who called for a fatwa (directive) to be issued that it is “haram” (not permissible) for Muslims to vote for the DA, he does not believe that Muslim voters will boycott the party entirely.

“I don’t think there ever has been such a thing as a Muslim vote, it never existed. So, if it never existed, how is it going to be affected now? Muslim voters or a person who is Muslim, like any other voter, votes on the basis of several different kinds of motivators.

“So, some people, particularly people who are relatively more kind of political in their outlook, they vote on the basis of their values. That is, in other words, ‘can we see ourselves represented in a political party, are they like us, do they have different constituencies, is our constituency represented by them, do they take care of our interests and so on?’” Fakir said.

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Types of voters

Fakir said there are also strategic and technical voters.

“There are other voters who actually, and these are what you would call strategic voters, tactical voters or rational voters, who vote not on the basis of their values, they vote on the basis of ‘what is the performance of this political party in meeting my needs’.

“The third is you will get technical voters who believe ‘this one’s too strong, so let me vote for that one to balance it out’, and we don’t know why people vote the way they do.

“Muslim voters like any other voter, vote on the basis of those three motivators. Religion has never always been it. But because the emotions in this case are so high, the DA has said things which they would have been better advised not to have said,” he added.

DA’s stance on Israel

Fakir said at least the DA has made its stance clear.

“I think it’s good that they did say what they did, because they are at least displaying the convictions that they hold and they have, and these are their convictions. If you don’t like those convictions, obviously you won’t vote for them.

“There’s some voters who I think will be put off by that. ‘So, I know that this is distasteful, I know that they are terrible, I know that they supporting genocide. But when it comes to ensuring that I got onto a housing list, they did it. If I had a reliable supply of basic services, they did it, I live in a place where the roads are not that bad, they did it’,” Fakir said.

Fakir said Muslim voters will likely decide on a party based on where they live and what their attitudes are going to be.

“I think it’s actually split. I think some of them are going to be put off by the DA’s messaging on international relations. But more importantly, and this is the main point, the DA’s messaging, and the way in which the DA deals with the South African electorate is completely incoherent. It is inconsistent and it is patronising toward all voters and that’s what puts Muslim voters, along with other voters, off.”

ANC and DA campaigning

Fakir contrasted the DA’s campaigning to that of the ANC. He said when the ANC campaigns, it is prepared to admit its mistakes.

“The problem with the ANC is that they are arrogant [when in power]. The DA is the opposite, they are extremely arrogant when they campaigning. But they’re actually relatively humble when they are in power. So now the voter is left with this dilemma of ‘wow, what do I want?’

“The ANC says one thing when it’s campaigning, but behaves differently when it’s in power. The DA is at least more consistent. Distasteful, but consistent. It’s bad politics, but it’s consistently bad politics. And that’s what keeps most voters away because they can’t identify with it.

“The DA is patronising to them, it talks down to them, it makes them feel stupid, makes them feel like everything they think is nonsense, so voters reward them by not voting with them.”

Gaza war an ’emotive issue’ 

However, Fakir said the value of a party does matter because the issue of Israel’s war in Gaza is so emotive.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a religious issue, I’d say it’s an emotional issue. So, they are emotional because it’s not just Muslims on the basis of religion that are disliking what they say, it’s a large number of black South Africans who are thinking, ‘why are you siding with these people (Israel)?’”

Fakir said it is also important to note that the letter that the DA wrote to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to monitor the elections will not sit well with South Africans.

The official opposition wrote to the US government pleading for additional resources to bolster the deployment of election observers when South Africans go the polls on 29 May.

No trust in South Africans

Fakir said when the DA wrote the letter, South Africans perceived the action of being a society that the DA does not trust. “So, you don’t trust us, but you want to lead us.”

“This is really important. Many black South Africans thought, but we already have observers and all the things you are asking the Americans to do is what actually does happen. So, what are you saying? Are you saying you want to lead a society that you don’t actually trust? And that’s the DAs problem, extending from the patronising approach of like, ‘you’re all idiots, you don’t know things and I know how things should work in the western sphere of influence [which] is the best’.

“When you talk down to people like that, then people think ‘who are you? Who are you to come into my house to tell me how to behave?’ And that’s what alienates voters and it won’t just be Muslim voters, but most voters in general.”

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