JERUSALEM (Apr. 5)
Premier Yitzhak Rabin officially informed his Cabinet tonight that Prime Minister John Vorster of South Africa will visit Israel as his guest for two or three days beginning later this week.
The Israel Radio and BBC, which carried the announcement, stressed that Vorster was coming to Israel as a “pilgrim” to visit the holy places. But observers here noted that the visit marked a solid improvement in relations between Israel and the Republic of South Africa that began to take shape after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Prior to that, relations between Israel and South Africa had been several strained due to. Israel’s voters against South Africa on the apartheid issue in the UN during the 1960s, including support of sanctions against that country. At the time, Israel’s relations with the Black African nations were flourishing and Premier David Ben Gurion maintained that Israel could not avoid taking a moral stand against the racial policies of South Africa.
Since then, Israel’s diplomatic position in Black Africa has deteriorated, partly as a result of Arab propaganda efforts. But the Israeli attitude toward South Africa remains ambivalent. On one hand, Israel still says it does not condone apartheid. On the other, Israelis recognize South Africa as one of its few remaining ? in the world. There is, in fact, a certain kinship between the two countries in that both have been diplomatically isolated, although for different reasons.
Several months ago, the Israeli Consulate in Johannesburg was raised to Embassy level and shortly afterward the South African Consulate in Tel Aviv became an Embassy. Commercial relations between the two countries have expanded over the past few years.
SOUTH AFRICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
Israel also has strong ties with the prosperous Jewish community of 120,000 in South Africa. It is regarded as one of the warmest and most generous Jewish communities in the world with respect to its material and moral support for Israel. Jewish education, Jewish youth movements and Zionism have found a hospitable climate in South Africa. Recently, an easing of currency regulations by the South African government has allowed the Jewish community to render massive financial assistance to Israel.
APARTHEID IS A SERIOUS BARRIER
But apartheid remains a serious barrier, and because of it, Israel’s friendship with South Africa has been used with notable success by the Arabs in branding Israel a racist state. Many Israelis themselves cannot reconcile their own ideals of democracy with friendship toward an apartheid regime.
The Histadrut newspaper Davar addressed itself to those feelings in an editorial today which recalled that South Africa was among the first countries to recognize Israel. The paper claimed that Vorster has achieved success in his policy of detente with some of the non-radical Black African states and that he has taken steps to soften apartheid. The consensus here appears to be that Vorster’s visit is important to Israel and the South African leader seems assured of a warm welcome.