South Africa’s deputy foreign minister on Sunday called upon the citizens of his country to avoid visiting Israel because of Jerusalem’s treatment of Palestinians, further deepening the diplomatic rift between the two nations.

“Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel,” Pretoria’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, told the City Press newspaper. “We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process.”

South Africa should “scale down” its economic ties with Israel, Ebrahim told the paper, although he reportedly added there was no need for a complete breakdown of relations.

Ebrahim’s comments come on the heels of efforts by the South African government to ban “Made in Israel” labels from goods produced by West Bank settlers. While the proposal has not yet been officially adopted by the government, it has raised the ire of the Jewish community in South Africa and the Israeli government.

The comments prompted an angry response from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. “This proves our point,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said. “All their initiatives to mutually inform, as it were, the consumer, are nothing but a boycott in disguise. Now things have come out into the open, as a senior member of the government is openly calling for a generalized, non-discriminating and discriminatory boycott of Israelis.”

The chairman of the South African Israel Public Affairs Committee, David Hersch, said in a statement: “South Africa’s increasing actions against Israel are all red herrings and classic attempts to sidetrack voters, fool the world, and a pretence at moral authority riding the rapidly declining momentum that came with her democratic elections in 1994.

“South Africa has obviously abandoned it ludicrous claims to becoming involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. It can no longer pretend to being an ‘honest broker’, which it never was,” said Hersch.

Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have been strained for several years now, but the rift intensified in May after Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said he intended to issue an official notice “to require traders in South Africa not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as products of Israel.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry claimed that proposal “smacked of racism” and said it would express its indignation to Pretoria’s ambassador in Israel, Ismail Coovadia.