Originally published in The Citizen Online
South Africa’s ambassador to Israel was summoned to that country’s Foreign Ministry Thursday to explain a recent decision by the South African cabinet to label products from settlements in the West Bank as coming from “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Ambassador Ismail Coovadia would meet with the head of the minsitry’s Africa Desk, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.
The South African government’s Wednesday decision came three months after Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies first raised the idea of affixing such labels on goods from the West Bank.
A Wednesday statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry slammed the South African decision, calling it “blatant discrimination based on national and political distinction.”
“This kind of discrimination has not been imposed – and rightly so – in any other case of national, territorial or ethnic conflict,” the statement said.
“What is totally unacceptable is the use of tools which, by essence, discriminate and single out, fostering a general boycott,” the statement added.
South Africa is the first country to specifically demand that goods manufactured in Israeli settlements bear a specific “Occupied Palestinian Territory” label.
However, since 2003, the EU has demanded that Israeli exporters specify on their export invoices where their products are made, to prevent those made in Israeli West Bank settlements from enjoying the duty-free status given to items originating in Israel.
The spat over settlement labels is the latest example of the increasingly strained ties between Israel and South Africa.
South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim, raised Israeli hackles last week, when he recommended South Africans refrain from visiting the Jewish state.
The SA labels ruling has also “outraged” the South African Jewish community, says the SA Jewish Board of Deputies in a statement released today. The statement continues: “In acting in so cavalier a manner, government has not only bypassed the consultation process set in motion by the notice but shown itself to be completely dismissive of Jewish concerns.
“As a community, South African Jewry has consistently demonstrated a willingness to engage with government regarding this complex and controversial issue. Just as consistently, however, its representatives have been denied any meaningful opportunity of explaining their position and airing the concerns they feel.
“It is the firm belief of the Jewish communal leadership that the proposed measures are discriminatory, divisive, inconsistent with South African trade policy and seriously flawed from both an administrative and procedural point of view. At bottom, they are believed to be motivated not by technical trade concerns but by political bias against the State of Israel. All attempts to discuss these concerns, however, have come to nothing.
“While the Jewish leadership has shown a willingness to discuss compromises and explore solutions that might allay the concerns of all parties, the government has refused to meaningfully engage on the issue. Regrettably, this in turn is indicative of government’s increasingly hostile attitude not against Israel but towards acknowledging and engaging with how the Jewish community feels about issues relating to it.”