CAPE TOWN, South Africa (JTA) — Israel’s envoy to South Africa said a government minister’s statement that South Africans would be "discouraged" from visiting Israel represents a boycott of his country.
"The cat is out of the bag," said Dov Segev-Steinberg, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa.
Taken together with the government proposal that goods emanating from the West Bank be labeled as coming from occupied territories instead of Israel, he said it was clear the intention was to boycott Israel.
Describing South Africa’s stance as "very regrettable," Segev-Steinberg said that "Instead of using the South African way of dialogue to promote peace, this is completely the opposite."
South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations, Ebrahim Ebrahim, at a news conference Tuesday confirmed his controversial statements published in a local newspaper over the weekend but denied that the policy constituted a boycott of Israel.
"We do not prevent them. We say we discourage them," Ebrahim said, according to the Cape Times. "The decision is left to the individual or the organization that is invited to visit Israel. There has been a policy of discouraging because we believe Israel is an occupying power and is doing all sorts of things in the Palestine-occupied territory which has been condemned by the entire international community."
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Zionist Federation and the Office of the Chief Rabbi said in a joint statement that it "deplored" Ebrahim’s statement and that his stance was "grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel."
In other areas of diplomacy, the statement said, South Africa has always emphasized the need for dialogue and engagement, but it appears that its policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to prevent the Israeli case from being heard.
Ebrahim said that visits to Israel "would somehow endorse the occupation of Palestinian territory, and we think a message should be sent to the Israelis that they have to end the occupation of Palestinian territory."
South Africa’s department of trade and industry indicated recently its intention to introduce legislation that would require all goods from the West Bank to be labeled as such.