Livni cancels visit to South Africa

Foreign Ministry work sanctions mean Kadima leader forced to decline Jewish community's invitation.

311_Livni at IDC (photo credit: Channel 10 News)
311_Livni at IDC
(photo credit: Channel 10 News)
JOHANNESBURG – MK Tzipi Livni’s visit to South Africa has been canceled because of Foreign Ministry work sanctions, leaving the South African Jewish community feeling insulted and embarrassed.
Livni was scheduled to visit South Africa at the invitation of its Jewry this week. Her visit was to include government meetings and public addresses in Johannesburg and Cape Town, but was contingent on the labor dispute talks after Foreign Ministry employees stopped providing consular services as part of their wage dispute with the Treasury.
A number of other scheduled diplomatic visits to and from Israel have also been postponed as a result of the strike, including that of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Recognizing that the visit was particularly pertinent to Israel-South Africa relations, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) appealed to the head of the ministry’s Diplomatic Worker’s Committee Hanan Goder-Goldberger to make an exception that would allow Livni to travel with the cooperation of the Foreign Ministry, as was made for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who visited London this week.
Zev Krengel, chairman of the SAJBD, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he was hopeful that Goder-Goldberger would assist in facilitating the visit, as there had been minimal interaction between South Africa and Israel in the past and Livni’s visit presented the opportunity for both governments to engage.
“The willingness of the South African government to participate in this visit signifies a willingness to reengage with Israel, something that has been lacking for some time, with the last high level Israeli delegation being Ehud Olmert in 2005,” said Krengel.
However, in an interview with the Post on Tuesday evening, Goder-Goldberger remained adamant that an exception would not be made and that the decision was completely based on whether the Finance Ministry would concede to the union’s demand for an increase. He said that although he recognized the importance of the visit, the broader issue of the wage dispute was much more serious.
“I appreciate how important this is for South Africa and for Israel, and it hurts my feelings to see this happen; however, there has to be a responsible adult who must consider the interests of the State of Israel,” he said.
“The Finance Ministry must find a solution because they are harming the State of Israel. They have already realized that the salaries for diplomatic service are much too low, but until now have offered very minor increases,” he added.
Attempts by the SAJBD to garner the support of the Embassy of Israel in Pretoria were also fruitless as Israeli ambassador Dov Segev- Steinberg ignored the pleas of the Jewish communal leadership for assistance, and refused to go against the union and offer his support.
Krengel says the community is feeling distressed over the incident.
“The head of the union kept us on a leash by making false promises, and the relationship between the Israeli ambassador and the local Jewish community is at an all time low,” he said, adding that the Jewish community fights especially hard for Israel in South Africa and now feels betrayed.
“Israel has Diaspora Jewry all over the world lobbying its cause to its people and to its government,” he said. “We are not looking to undermine the labor dispute, but while our Diaspora community should not be involved in this internal dispute, I am feeling that we were used as a pawn in an internal Israeli political conflict.”
The SAJBD says it now remains concerned that another serious ramification of the cancelation will be the perception that the anti- Israel activist groups (Media Review Network and Palestinian Solidarity Association) with their threats of arrest have intimidated Livni into not coming, serving as a victory for them and a setback for the intensive Israel advocacy work the community has done over the years.