SA envoy evades Israel over settlements labels

Ambassador turns off phone to avoid answering Foreign Ministry call; Liberman: South Africa's anti-Israel policy nothing new.

Ahava (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Foreign Ministry could not summon South Africa’s ambassador to protest Pretoria’s intention to label settlement products differently from those made within the Green Line because he turned off his phone, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Sunday.
As a result, Ismail Coovadia is only expected to be called into the ministry on Monday.
Palmor decried South Africa’s stated intention to label Israeli products from the settlements as crossing a red line, and said the move reflected the sour state of ties between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was even blunter, saying at a press conference with US Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that in recent years Pretoria has adopted a clear anti- Israel policy.
“I am sorry that it is precisely South Africa, which suffered for years from racism, that is adopting the same polices toward Israel,” he said. Liberman said it was not coincidental that the 2001 Durban Conference, one of the most anti-Israel forums ever, took place in in that country.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced in an official notice last week that South African importers would no longer “incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) as products of Israel.” Davies said that South Africa “recognizes the State of Israel only within the borders demarcated by the United Nations (UN) in 1948.”
This, Palmor said, showed that Davies did not understand what was being discussed, since the UN never demarcated borders in 1948.
Palmor said he hoped that Davies was not referring to lines demarcated under the 1947 partition plan, a plan for a truncated Israel accepted by the Jewish leadership at the time, but rejected by the Arabs who then waged war on the fledgling state.
Palmor said the South African government did not clarify in the new regulation what is defined as made in Judea and Samaria, and that “the vague phrasing in the South African regulation shows that there are no clear criteria, and therefore it will hurt Israeli products in general.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Army Radio that Israel wanted to “clarify the facts” with Coovadia, and determine whether this was indeed new South African policy or merely a trial balloon. He said that he spoke over the weekend at an event with the deputy ambassador of South Africa who had not even heard of the order.
Ayalon said that if indeed this was Pretoria’s intention, Israel would make clear that such a practice was unacceptable in relations between friendly states, and also contrasted with a current flourishing of ties with African states that he said were keen to acquire Israeli know-how and technology.
Foreign Ministry officials said that similar comments about labeling products from the settlements made by the Danish foreign minister were viewed as a trial balloon that did not reflect the position of that country’s government.
While the EU since 2003 has required Israeli exporters to specify on their export invoices where their products are made, so that products manufactured in settlements would not enjoy the same duty-free status as those manufactured inside the Green Line, the products themselves never bore any “settlement” label. A South African policy to do just that would be a first.
One government official noted wryly that it was interesting the South Africans were not considering specially labeling products from Kashmir, Tibet, Gibraltar, the western Sahara, northern Cyprus, Kosovo or any other number of areas where there are territorial conflicts to alert sensitive South African consumers.
A spokesman from the South African Department of International Relations refused to comment on the issue, saying only that the ambassador will indeed arrive at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for consultations.
“This is a notice issued by the Trade Ministry, therefore the matter lies within their responsibility,” he emphasized.
Telfed – The South African Zionist Federation – Israel – issued a statement saying it viewed the move with “great concern.” It urged the South African government to support and facilitate a dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians over the future of the West Bank, “rather than selecting Israel for sanctions and boycotts which do more harm to both Palestinians and Israelis than contribute to resolving the dispute.”
Mary Kluk, national chairwoman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, told The Jerusalem Post that it was “regretful” that the South African authorities had politicized the matter.
“We were anxious to learn that the decision was encouraged apparently by lobby groups, without really consulting all the stake holders, thereby transforming it into a political issue rather than a trade issue,” she said. “As South African Jews it is important for us to be brought into the consultation process.”
Kluk said the Jewish community planned to submit its reservations regarding the proposal in the coming days.
Meanwhile, MK Danny Danon (Kadima) labeled Pretoria’s decision Palestinian extremist incitement, and called on Liberman to tell South Africa’s ambassador that the policy would have far-reaching repercussions.
“We should lower South Africa’s diplomatic ranking and send a message to the whole world – Judea and Samaria are an inseparable part of the State of Israel,” Danon said.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union) suggested that South African products sold in Israel should be marked with a label that reads: “Warning! Product of South Africa. History shows that anti-Semitism leads to the death of Jews.”
On the other side of the spectrum, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) wrote a letter thanking the South African ambassador for his country’s “brave and moral stance” on settlements.
According to Tibi, the South African stance is especially important, due to the country’s history, in which “a minority had a dictatorship of a majority with no rights.
Tibi expressed hope that other countries would follow South Africa’s lead. Last month, on a trip to Canada, he called for a boycott of settlement goods.
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said that Pretoria’s decision “proves that the world still differentiates between Israel and the occupied territories and settlements.”
“This is an important differentiation, because the minute the occupation swallows Israel, the boycott will swallow us all,” Gal-On said.
“The only one who does not make this difference is the Israeli government, which is delegitimizing itself.”
The Meretz leader said she does not buy products manufactured in settlements, and has proposed bills to have such items specially labeled.