South Africa’s ambassador summoned to Jerusalem over decision to label settlement goods

Pretoria move underlines deterioration of relations with Israel; Foreign Ministry slams ‘blatant discrimination’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The Ahava factory in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpeh Shalem (Flash90)
The Ahava factory in the West Bank settlement of Mitzpeh Shalem (Flash90)

South Africa on Wednesday approved a much-debated plan to ban “Made in Israel” labels on products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Instead, such imports are to be labeled as coming from the “Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The South African cabinet voted in favor of allowing the trade minister to require merchants to label products in a way that allows customers to know which goods did not originate in Israel proper but beyond the Green Line, spokesperson Jimmy Manyi told a press briefing.

“This is in line with South Africa’s stance that recognizes the 1948 borders delineated by the United Nations and does not recognize occupied territories beyond these borders as being part of the state of Israel,” he said, according to AFP.

Israel reacted bitterly. “The measure announced today by the South African cabinet to require special labeling for goods emanating from Israeli settlements is without precedent, as no such measure has ever been adopted in South Africa or in any other country: it constitutes therefore a blatant discrimination based on national and political distinction,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“Israel and South Africa have political differences, and that is legitimate,” the ministry added. “What is totally unacceptable is the use of tools which, by essence, discriminate and single out, fostering a general boycott. Such exclusion and discrimination bring to mind ideas of racist nature which the government of South Africa, more than any other, should have wholly rejected.”

The Foreign Ministry said that South Africa’s ambassador would be summoned to Jerusalem to discuss the decision.

In May, South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced his plan 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.” Davies said that Pretoria recognized the State of Israel “only within the borders demarcated by the United Nations (UN) in 1948” and that these borders do not include territories occupied by Israel after 1967.

Since the UN did not demarcate any borders in 1948, Davies and Manyi apparently referred to the 1947 partition plan. Israel has not annexed the West Bank, and does not claim that the West Bank is legally part of the State of Israel.

In his first notice, Davies invited “comments from the public on this issue,” which had to reach the ministry within 60 days of the notice’s posting. The original closing date for public comments was July 10, but the deadline was extended.

Davies’s proposal, prompted by a pro-Palestinian organization called Open Shuhada Street, was condemned fiercely by South African pro-Israel groups and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which said the plan “smacks of racism.”

Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria have been frosty for years now, but a new low point was reached last week, when South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim discouraged his compatriots from visiting Israel. “Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel,” he said.

“This proves our point,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel at the time. “All their initiatives to mutually inform, as it were, the consumer, are nothing but a boycott in disguise.”

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