The constitution of post-apartheid South Africa is the supreme law
of the state. No other law or government action can supersede it and it
enjoys high international acclaim as one of the most progressive constitutions
in the world.
Since discrimination contradicts the basic concept of the
new South Africa, the constitution provides complete equality under the law as
entrenched in Section 9, which expressly forbids “singling out” or choosing a
person or a group for unfair special treatment.
In this context, recent
actions by South African Minister of Trade and Industry Dr. Rob Davies and
Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Ebrahim Ebrahim are
disturbing. In their blatant singling out of Israel for unfair treatment, their
actions are inimical to the ideals of the new South Africa.
deserve censure as unconstitutional, and if allowed to go unchallenged they will
blemish the lofty concepts of a constitution of which South Africa is
As I am not a lawyer but an engineer, I realize that
my interpretation of the equality provisions of the constitution may not be
strictly applicable to discriminatory criticism of foreign states. Nevertheless,
the moral equivalence cannot be ignored.
Former Canadian justice minister
Irwin Cotler has stated, “The singling out for discriminatory indictment of one
state undermines the whole UN system.”
It is a sad reflection on our
ability to reason rationally that a whole generation of journalists and
policy-makers continues to single out Israel and settlements as the sole source
of all the problems of the Middle East, ignoring the obvious Shia- Sunni divide
and the fact that Middle East violence began long before one settlement was
established and even before Israel was created.
Let’s look at the
discriminatory ministerial actions.
announced his intention to introduce regulations requiring that products made in
the West Bank be labeled as “Made in the occupied Palestinian
I would strongly support an even-handed law that requires
“truth in labeling” aimed at ensuring that consumers are fully informed about
the origin of goods, including those made in the West Bank.
But it is
illogical to exclude from such labeling regulation other goods that consumers
may wish to avoid if known to be made under objectionable conditions, such as
carpets made in Pakistan by child slave laborers.
The Bonded Labor
Liberation Front reports that between 200,000 and 300,000 children are involved
in the carpet industry in Asia. “World & I” describes how these children
work from toddlerhood to adolescence from 4 in the morning to 11 at night
without breaks. They are kept hungry so they will stay awake and work longer
Goods made in the West Bank should be appropriately labeled, but
not as made in the OPT, as this is an ill-defined term with many confusing
differences of opinion about what it actually means.
Many interpret it to
refer to territory regained by Israel in 1967, but Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas denies this. He announced on September 16 that the real
borders are those laid down in the 1947 UN partition resolution. And others such
as Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement,
regard OPT as every inch of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Haifa. To avoid the
confusing interpretations of OPT it is obviously preferable to use the
unambiguous names Samaria and Judea.
There can be no denying that to
require that a label of origin be attached to a product produced in Judea or
Samaria by adult Jewish and Arab workers who willingly work for living wages but
not to a carpet made by five-year-old slaves in South Asia would be shamefully
And nearer to home, true labeling would give sensitive
consumers the opportunity to avoid buying products such as “blood diamonds” from
Zimbabwe. According to a BBC report, one of the world’s most significant diamond
fields is a place of torture in Zimbabwe where some miners are unable to walk on
account of beatings. The company that runs the mine is headed by a personal
friend of President Robert Mugabe.
Discouraging travel to Israel
another recent example of unconstitutional singling out of Israel, Deputy
Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim implied that it is official SA government policy to
discourage South Africans from visiting Israel. Denying that the policy amounted
to a boycott of Israel, he stressed that SA still maintains diplomatic relations
with the country.
At a press conference in Pretoria he said, “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.”
discriminatory nature of this policy lies in its blatant avoidance of applying
the same measures to any of many other occupied and disputed territories. For
the sake of brevity I refer to only one example, Northern Cyprus, which has been
illegally occupied by Turkey since 1974. While discouraging cooperation with
Israel, South Africa is elevating relations with Turkey in the wake of Deputy
President Kgalema Motlanthe’s visit to Ankara last June, an event, by the way,
that I applaud since I strongly advocate dialogue between states irrespective of
The discriminatory treatment of Israel is nevertheless
glaring, as Turkey continues its occupation of northern Cyprus despite the
unanimous UN General Assembly Resolution 3212 (1974) that called for speedy
withdrawal of all foreign troops as well as General Assembly Resolution 33/15
(1978) that deplored the continued presence of Turkish foreign armed forces on
According to the Cyprus Bar Association, the European Commission
of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of grave violations of human rights in
Cyprus having flouted the Genocide Convention, the UN International Covenants on
Human Rights, the Hague Regulations, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the
European Convention on Human Rights.
Fortunately, Ebrahim Ebrahim does
not reflect unanimous South African opinion. Expressing outrage, the African
Christian Democratic Party wrote objecting to the “double standards by requiring
of it [Israel] a behavior not accepted or demanded of any other democratic
nation. We wonder why Ebrahim never called on South Africans not to visit Syria
or any other country engulfed by war and violence in the Middle East.”