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.

Their actions deserve censure as unconstitutional, and if allowed to go unchallenged they will blemish the lofty concepts of a constitution of which South Africa is justifiably proud.

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.

Labeling regulations

Davies has announced his intention to introduce regulations requiring that products made in the West Bank be labeled as “Made in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

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 hours.

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 discriminatory.

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

In 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.”

The obvious 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 differences.

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 Cyprus.

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.”

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