South Africa’s ruling party endorses anti-Israel boycott

Former deputy president Mbete says Israel is ‘far worse than apartheid South Africa’; Jewish leader compares Pretoria’s attitude to Israel with that of Tehran

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

An anti-Israel rally in Johannesburg last year (photo credit: CC BY Meraj Chhaya, Flickr)
An anti-Israel rally in Johannesburg last year (photo credit: CC BY Meraj Chhaya, Flickr)

Senior members of South Africa’s ruling party this week endorsed a boycott of Israel, seemingly contradicting Pretoria’s official stance of maintaining trade ties with Israel.

The move is likely to further strain already frayed ties between the countries.

During an international conference hosted by the African National Congress — which controls two thirds of the National Assembly — delegates endorsed the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement. According to a press release by the South African BDS chapter, there was “wide-spread support from international delegates for the adoption and support of the Palestinian BDS call.”

Responding to an objection from a German delegate, who said Israel cannot be compared to South Africa during the apartheid era, ANC chairperson and former South African deputy president Baleka Mbete said Israel was actually “far worse than Apartheid South Africa,” according to a press release published by BDS South Africa. “Ms Mbete received a resounding round of applause from delegates for articulating this position,” the release states.

The Palestine Liberation Organization official present at the conference welcomed the ANC’s support for BDS.

In Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry reacted angrily.

“The government of South Africa has stated time and again that it is against boycotts,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel in response to the announcement. “This release being a hodgepodge of half-truths and entire lies serving as arguments to recommend a policy rejected by the South African government, we’re waiting for South African officials to respond and clarify the official position.”

‘Israel is begin to consider the government in Pretoria as being as hostile as the Iranian regime’

The president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Zeev Krengel, said Mbete’s statement was the usual attempt to “bash and demonize Israel.”

“It is disappointing for Jewish people in South Africa as this adds no value but to incite a level of anti-Israel feeling,” Krengel said, according to local newspaper The Citizen. Jerusalem is beginning to think the government in Pretoria is as hostile toward Israel as the Iranian regime, Krengel was quoted as saying.

The ANC’s third International Solidarity Conference, which ended Sunday, drew about 1,000 delegates from South Africa and across the globe, mostly former anti-apartheid activists, trade union representatives, religious leaders and various other progressive and left-wing groups. According to the conference’s website, the meeting aimed to “unite the likeminded people of the world for peace, solidarity and social transformation to create a world free of human rights abuses and creation of sustainable environments.”

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.”

In August, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim called upon the citizens of his country to avoid visiting Israel because of Jerusalem’s treatment of Palestinians. “Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it is not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel,” Ebrahim said.

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