ISRAEL AND South Africa have become embroiled in a diplomatic row over the latter’s decision to publicly state that its official policy is to discourage its citizens from visiting the Jewish state.
South Africa’s deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ismael Ebrahim said on Sunday in a newspaper interview that because Israel was occupying and oppressing Palestine, it was not proper for South Africans to associate with it.
“We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process,” he told the City Press newspaper, adding that by visiting Israel people endorsed the occupation of the Palestinian territory.
The statement drew an angry response from Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Dov Segev-Steinberg, who said he would be seeking clarification from Pretoria because his government believed the stance amounted to an official boycott of Israel.
It also drew condemnation from South Africa’s influential Jewish community, which said the government’s approach to Israel was wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducted its international relations.
“Of course it is perfectly acceptable for the South African government to allow visits to all Arab/Muslim countries in spite of their appalling human rights records and real application of apartheid policies,” said a statement by the South Africa Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Relations between post-apartheid South Africa and Israel have been strained because many in the African National Congress government feel they can relate to the Palestinian cause due to their own history of oppression.
Three months ago trade and industry minister Rob Davies issued a directive that called for all goods produced in the West Bank to be labelled as made in occupied Palestine rather than in Israel.