South Africa's government has adopted a regulation to prevent the labeling of goods from the West Bank as being produced in Israel.
Government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi announced Wednesday that goods produced in the West Bank should now be labeled as originating from the ''Israeli Occupied Territories." Manyi said that the proposal was adopted to prevent consumers from being misled into thinking that such goods come from Israel.
South African Jewish leaders, including the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the Zionist Federation and South Africa's chief rabbi, on Wednesday issued a strong statement deploring the Cabinet's decision.
The statement said that the South African Jewish community is "outraged" over the decision, which it said not only has "bypassed the consultation process set in motion by the notice but shown itself to be completely dismissive of Jewish concerns."
"It is the firm belief of the Jewish communal leadership that the proposed measures are discriminatory, divisive, inconsistent with South African trade policy and seriously flawed from both an administrative and procedural point of view. At bottom, they are believed to be motivated not by technical trade concerns but by political bias against the State of Israel. All attempts to discuss these concerns, however, have come to nothing,'' said the statement.
In spite of repeated requests, Trade Minister Rob Davies refused to meet with representatives of the Jewish community for several months. A short meeting took place in June in Cape Town, but with no resolution. Board of Deputies representatives attending that the meeting said that the minister categorically refused to enter into a dialogue.
Wednesday's statement emphasized the Jewish leaders' willingness to work toward a mutual solution on the issue: "While the Jewish leadership has shown a willingness to discuss compromises and explore solutions that might allay the concerns of all parties, the government has refused to meaningfully engage on the issue. Regrettably, this in turn is indicative of government’s increasingly hostile attitude not against Israel but towards acknowledging and engaging with how the Jewish community feels about issues relating to it."
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson told JTA that the ministry is still deliberating how to respond to the issue. Israeli officials have stressed in recent weeks that the South African government has been adding a new and worrisome dimension to the already strained bilateral relations, making the diplomatic crisis more visible and more public than ever.
One diplomat said that South Africa continues to reduce the volume of diplomatic relations on different levels, referring to numerous events in the past few months, including several cancellations: a May lecture by an Israeli deputy ambassador at the University of Kwazulu Natal, the South African agriculture minister's visit to Israel and a visit of South African mayors.
The diplomat also referred to South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim's recent speech "recommending'' South African citizens not visit Israel.
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