J'lem, Pretoria eye each other over labeling issue

Disagreement over whether meeting with S. African envoy took place; lecture by Israeli diplomat at University of KwaZulu-Natal canceled by protests.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
South Africa’s ambassador told a senior Foreign Ministry official on Sunday at a late night meeting that he would look into Pretoria’s policy on labeling goods from the settlements and get back to him, Israeli officials said on Monday.
But reflecting confusion over the whole issue, Eugene Grobler, a political counselor at South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv, denied any such meeting had taken place, and said that the embassy was waiting for a confirmation of a date for a meeting.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman, however, insisted that a meeting between the deputy director-general for Africa, Avi Granot, and the South African envoy, Ismail Coovadia, did take place. The official stressed, however, that this was not to deliver a reprimand, but only to establish the facts of South Africa’s polices concerning the labeling of goods originating in settlements.
The meeting came at the end of a day during which the Foreign Ministry said that Coovadia had been unreachable.
Another meeting with the ambassador at the ministry is expected later this week.
South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies published a notice in the government’s gazette two weeks ago saying that products that “originate from the Occupied Palestinians Territory” must not be labeled as made in Israel.
Israel’s strong reaction to the move was intended, one government official said, to get the South African government to step away from the policy before it became official. It also seemed intended to send a message to other countries that such moves would be fiercely resisted by Jerusalem.
In a related development, the University of KwaZulu- Natal canceled a lecture Monday that was to be given by Israel’s deputy ambassador to South Africa, Yaakov Finkelstein.
The decision to cancel the event, made both by the vice chancellor of the university and Israeli representatives, came in light of massive demonstrations organized by anti-Israel groups at the event.
The Israeli Embassy said that once it was felt that Finkelstein might be in danger, the decision was jointly made to postpone the lecture.
Hila Stern, the spokeswoman at the embassy in Pretoria, said the lecture was part of the embassy’s usual academic cultural cooperation program.
“We are sorry that anti-Israeli elements have embarked on a campaign of intellectual terror that rejects everything academia believes in: Dialogue, discussions, research, understanding and freedom of speech.
The use of bullying to silence freedom of expression in an academic setting is a very sad development,” she said.
The decision to cancel the lecture was not directly related to the settlement-labeling issue, one Israeli official said, though he added that the South African government was creating an atmosphere where this type of “bullying” against Israel could take place.