MK Avigdor Liberman on Sunday warned South African Jews of a looming “pogrom” incited by their government, urged them to leave before it was too late, and accused Pretoria of being “anti-Semitic” and hypocritical on Israel.
Liberman’s statement was issued in response to harsh anti-Israel rhetoric by South Africa’s International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who said Friday that she was losing sleep over the Palestinians’ plight and that Pretoria would “curtail” relations with Israel.
“The government of South Africa is creating an atmosphere of anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Semitism that will make a pogrom against Jews in the country just a matter of time,” Liberman, a former foreign minister who heads the Yisrael Beytenu coalition party, said in a statement.
He called on all Jews who live in South Africa “to immigrate to Israel immediately, without delay, before it’s too late.” South Africa’s Jewish community numbers an estimated 70,000.
Currently the chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Liberman might return to the Foreign Ministry if the court declares him innocent in an ongoing fraud and breach of trust trial. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is scheduled to announce the verdict on Wednesday.
Citing the 2012 Marikana miners’ strike incident, during which South African police shot dozens of striking miners, Liberman accused Nkoana-Mashabane of hypocrisy.
“The same government whose police just one year ago indiscriminately shot and killed 34 miners because they ‘dared’ to strike, and afterward even wanted to bring the miners who survived to trial using a law from the apartheid days; the same government that does not get involved, and is not concerned by, what happens with its neighbors — not the murder of journalists in Mali, or the terrorist attacks in Kenya — is concerned by what is happening to the Palestinians thousands of kilometers away,” he declared.
Liberman’s bitter comments prompted criticism, in turn, from a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, who said the hawkish politician was the main reason for Pretoria’s attacks on Israel. Liberman’s words were “irresponsible and indicative of complete ignorance regarding the complex situation of the Jewish community in South Africa,” Ilan Baruch told the Walla website.
In an interview Friday, Nkoana-Mashabane launched a forceful verbal assault on Israel, and said it was now Pretoria’s policy that government ministers do not visit Israel.
“Our Palestinian friends have never asked us to disengage with Israel [through cutting diplomatic relations]. They had asked us in formal meetings to not engage with the regime,” Nkoana-Mashabane told a Congress of South African Trade Unions international relations committee meeting. South Africa has “agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better,” she said.
“The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” she declared, adding that the Palestinians’ current situation was disturbing her sleep.
In recent years, South Africa has been a harsh critic of Israel, with prominent figures often drawing parallels between between the country’s apartheid era and Israel today, slamming Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, and voicing support for cultural, economic and educational boycotts of Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.