South Africans protest outside the U.S. embassy to condemn Washington's support for Israel ahead of a United Nations (UN) world conference against racism August 16, 2001..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As South Africa’s Jewish community expressed concern Tuesday over Jerusalem’s decision last week to bar Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande from entering the country, the South African boycott movement threatened to march on the Israeli Embassy in Pretoria and expel the ambassador.
In a joint statement, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation noted their concern regarding Israel’s denial of a visa to Nzimande, who has been highly critical of Israel and was slated to attend a meeting with his Palestinian Authority counterpart in Ramallah.
The higher education minister, who accused Israelis of attempting to “hide their atrocities” by blocking his visit, subsequently came under harsh criticism from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who cited recent violent attacks against foreigners throughout South Africa.
Both the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation called the diplomatic flap “regrettable,” arguing that “regular interaction between Israel and South Africa and mutual visits of political leaders, parliamentarians and government officials, as well as business people, media, tourists and family visits, are to the benefit of both South Africa and Israel and foster greater understanding between the two countries.”
The Jewish representative bodies also accused their own government of imposing restrictions on the movement of officials between the two nations, stating that the “practice of discouraging interaction between South African officials and their Israeli counterparts is contradictory to the way South Africa has traditionally engaged in conflict resolution, both domestically and in its foreign policy in general.”
Several years ago, the South African government issued a directive to “discourage” its citizens from visiting Israel.
Not all members of the Zionist Federation agreed with their national leadership, however.
In an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday morning, Ben Levitas – the president of the federation’s Cape Council, a regional chapter – praised Israel’s decision to prevent Nzimande’s entry.
“Nzimande actively activated and propagated the severing of links between the University of Johannesburg and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba,” he wrote, adding that the minister had “overstepped the line of protocol” by accusing Israel of massacres and genocide.
On Monday, a number of South African organizations, including the South African Communist Party, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, held a joint press conference to offer what they termed a “plan of action to hold Israel accountable for its right-wing discriminatory policies.”
The plan of action – which the BDS movement said had the support of the PA Embassy as well – includes a renewed push to institute a travel ban to Israel, an end to granting Israelis automatic visas, an academic and agricultural boycott, and the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
If the South African government does not send Ambassador Arthur Lenk home within 10 days, the groups said, “our progressive organizations will take it upon ourselves to be at the Israeli Embassy on the 15th of May to expel the Israeli Ambassador.”
The Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
By banning the minister, Israel has shown itself to be an apartheid state and a suppressor of academic freedom, the signatories to the plan asserted, blasting the “Israeli lobby” for its attempts to “isolate” South African political figures such as ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte.
Both Israel and South African Jews criticized Duarte last year after she condemned IDF strikes against Hamas as “barbaric attacks on the defenseless Palestinian people of Gaza” that were reminiscent of “the atrocities of Nazi Germany.”