After the South African government this week reiterated its policy of discouraging citizens from visiting Israel to protest Jerusalem’s treatment of the Palestinians, the country’s reigning Zulu king said he would visit the country.
King Goodwill Zwelithini, 64, accepted the invitation of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Dov Segev-Steinberg, to visit the country early next year, the embassy in Pretoria announced.
“His Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini accepted the invitation and vowed to use his official visit to explore ways to intensify the co-operation between South Africa and Israel and especially between the Zulu people and the Israeli people,” the embassy said in a statement.
Zwelithini, who has been to Israel before, will look into “new possibilities to co-operate with Israel in the fields of health, agriculture and education amongst other areas of interest for the benefit of the Zulu people,” the statement read.
The constitutional monarch of the kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal, Zwelithini heads the state-recognized institution of Ubukhosi, the traditional leadership of local chiefs. He succeeded his father, King Cyprian Bhekezulu, in 1968.
The king’s commitment to visit is “a sign that Israel still has good friends in this country — friends who are happy and willing to share experiences and ensure love and respect for Israel,” Segev-Steinberg told the South African website MyShtetl.
Bilateral relations have been frosty for years now but worsened earlier this year when a South African minister proposed banning Made in Israel labels for products from the West Bank, a move Israel slammed as racist. On Sunday, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim angered Jerusalem even more with statements ostensibly calling for a boycott.
“Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel,” he told a newspaper. “We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process.”
Ebrahim’s 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.”
South Africa’s Jewish community slammed Ebrahim’s comments as well.
“Such a stance is grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel,” according to a joint statement by the South African Zionist Federation, South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein. “The result of such a policy is that South Africa, instead of lending its weight to international efforts to bring about a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, will be seen to be supporting those who wish to promote a complete boycott of Israel and to that end seek to shut down any initiatives aimed at meaningful dialogue.”
Ebrahim denied having called for a boycott of Israel. “What we are saying as government is we discourage South Africans from visiting Israel,” Ebrahim said during a press briefing. “We do not prevent them. We say we discourage them. The decision is left to the individual or the organization that is invited to visit Israel.”
“There has been a policy of discouraging,” he explained, “because we believe Israel is an occupying power and is doing all sorts of things in the Palestine occupied territory which have been condemned by the entire international community.”
According to South African media, Ebrahim supports the plan of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said to “require traders in South Africa not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory as products of Israel.” He rebutted the claim that this measure would amount to a boycott.
“We are not saying that people should boycott these goods. We are saying that the consumer should have a right to know that these are goods produced in occupied territory,” Ebrahim said.