The official South African Jewish community is outraged by Trade Minister Rob Davies having “sneaked through cabinet, during a week of national mourning,” his plan to have goods produced in the West Bank labeled as originating from the “Israeli Occupied Territories.”
Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyi announced on Wednesday that cabinet had agreed that goods produced in the West Bank should now be labelled as such. The decision was passed at the regular Tuesday afternoon cabinet meeting at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
Davies' “memo,” as he called it on Thursday, would now, Davies said, be
developed into regulations in terms of the Consumer Protection Act.
The Trade and Industry portfolio committee might discuss planned regulations – but basically the new labelling regulation was “a done deal,” Davies said.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) – aswell as some members of the official opposition, the Democratic Party (DA) – have opposed the minister’s planned new regulation and could raise some objections in committee, but Davies did not foresee any hitches.
“What’s bizarre and annoying,” said Wendy Kahn, national director of Beyachad, the community’s umbrella body, “is that the minister has acted in so cavalier a manner.
“This is, firstly, a week of national mourning – it was declared thus by the president – for the miners killed at Lonmin’s Marikana mine. Yet this business of labelling goods from Israel is tabled at a cabinet meeting. This is appalling timing about an issue that is itself polarizing and divisive.
“Second, the minister has bypassed the consultation process set in motion by the notice and has shown himself to be completely dismissive of Jewish concerns. He promised us," she said, “that our inputs – which were detailed and careful – would be taken into consideration.”
Davis said yesterday that as far as he was concerned, there was no need for further consultation with anyone. “I will tell you that the overwhelming thrust of most of the submissions was in the direction in which we headed, so ...”
Davies said too that everything discussed at the weekly cabinet meeting has to vetted and passed by the cabinet committee the previous week. “This matter was passed last week, before Marikana, so I assure there is no conspiracy or underhandedness here,” the minister said.
Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs said: “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.
“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 ministry’s statement added that the South African ambassador of South Africa in Israel would be summoned to the ministry to be told about the ministry’s displeasure.
President Jacob Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said on Thursday that the Jewish community’s ire and upset has been drawn to the president’s attention, “but, really, in a week such as this [the week following the Marikana shootings], we haven’t had a chanceto talk about this issue …”
Zev Krengel, president of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, Avrom Krengel, chairman of the SA Zionist Federation, and Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, said in a statement that “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.”
IFP MP, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, said: “Cabinet has yet again consulted widely and done the opposite of what the consultation suggested. The decision requiring that products imported from Gaza and the West Bank be marked as coming from the ‘Israeli Occupied Territories’ rather than from ‘Israel’ is against our national interest and one must wonder why it was adopted.
“Surely it was not adopted to fulfill international obligations, as there are no legal
bases in our law or in international law to require that products coming from the West Bank or Gaza should be marked as coming from Israeli-occupied territories.”
He added: “The matter is not one of principle because if that were the case products from Tibet should also be marketed as originating from ‘Chinese- occupied Tibet’ and the same should apply in respect the other 72 territories listed by the UN as occupied, none of which is referred to in the Cabinet decision. This is obviously a provocation aimed at promoting a consumer boycott of such products which will hurt the Palestinians who often produce them."
Recently South African Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim “Ibie” Ebrahim “discouraged” South Africans from travelling to Israel. Following complaints from the SA Jewish community, he toned his comments down slightly be saying that his remarks related to people on official business only.
But on Sunday an article in City Press, a major Sunday newspaper, carried a headline, “Ebrahim’s U-turn on Israel.”
However, the article, written by a senior political journalist, contained only anonymous comments by senior staffers at the Department of International Relations blaming the deputy minister’s age “for [his] umpteenth diplomatic faux pas.” Ebrahim is 75.
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