CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — There is no ban on government officials traveling to Israel, a South Africa Cabinet minister said days after a colleague said the country’s ministers “do not visit Israel currently.”
At a post-Cabinet meeting briefing, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane said South African government officials are free to travel to Israel and that the country’s Jewish community has nothing to fear.
Chabane’s comments Nov. 7 were a reaction to statements made earlier in the month by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who said that South African Cabinet ministers “do not visit Israel currently.”
“We have agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better. The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” she said, according to a report in the Cape Times.
Nkoana-Mashabane’s comments prompted Israeli lawmaker Avigdor Liberman to accuse the South African government of having created an anti-Semitic and anti-Israel atmosphere, and to call on South African Jews to “come to Israel without delay before it is too late.” A pogrom against Jews, he said, was “only a matter of time.”
In a report in the Cape Times, Chabane repudiated Liberman’s claim, saying the South African Jewish community has nothing to fear.
“We don’t consider them to be part of the Jewish State of Israel,” Chabane said. “They may be having part relationships but they are South Africans, they pay taxes like anyone; they vote here; they have been part of this country for a very long time; they contribute towards the development of the country, so they are part of us.”
Mary Kluk, chairwoman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said the Cabinet statement that there was no ban on government officials traveling to Israel was “encouraging.”
Responding to the controversy in a widely published opinion piece, South Africa’s chief rabbi, Warren Goldstein, said: “Nkoana-Mashabane and Lieberman through their inflammatory statements and grotesque caricatures of countries they do not understand have exacerbated the tensions in both of their societies, and have made achieving peace even more difficult in a world which is filled with enemies of reconciliation.”