South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Eric Miller/World Economic Forum/Flickr)
A top South African official has confirmed that her country has further curtailed its official ties with Israel.
“Ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently,” International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said last week, the Mail & Guardian newspaper reported.
“Even the Jewish Board of Deputies that we engage with here, they know why our ministers are not going to Israel,” Nkoana-Mashabane explained.
“Our Palestinian friends have never asked us to disengage with Israel [through cutting diplomatic relations]. They had asked us in formal meetings to not engage with the regime.”
“The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” the minister added.
Referring to Israel’s policy of land confiscation, Nkoana-Mashabane said, “The last time I saw a map of Palestine, I couldn’t go to sleep.”
“It is just dots, smaller than those of the homelands, and that broke my heart.”
“Homelands” is a reference to the bantustans – the nominally independent states established by the former apartheid regime in the 1970s to foster the illusion that black South Africans had independence.
The bantustans, a keystone of the apartheid policy, were intended to conceal the white supremacist nature of the South African regime behind a mask of black “sovereignty.”
Today, Wendy Kahn, national director of South Africa’s Jewish Board of Deputies, said the minister’s policy amounted to “discriminatory punitive measures” against Israel and was “inconsistent with South African foreign policy in general, which is not to boycott other governments but rather to continually engage with them.”
Lieberman “anti-Semitism” smears
Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s former foreign minister, hit back at Nkoana-Mashabane, accusing her and South Africa of “anti-Semitism.”
“The comments by the South African foreign minister at the weekend, that South African government ministers will no longer visit Israel as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians, are a combination of hypocrisy and classic anti-Semitism,” Lieberman wrote on his Facebook page, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Lieberman took the opportunity to incite against Jews in South Africa, claiming without any evidence, “The South African government is creating an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic atmosphere, which will result in pogroms against the country’s Jews. I call on all Jews still living there to make aliya as soon as possible, before it is too late.”
“Aliya” is the Hebrew word for government-subsidized Jewish immigration and colonization in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Lieberman’s attempt to frighten and intimidate South African Jews into leaving their country recalls a similar, unsuccessful appeal by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who demanded almost a decade ago that all of France’s Jews must flee their country to escape “anti-Semitism.”
Nkoana-Mashabane’s announcement appears to confirm the gradual reduction in ties between Israel on the one hand and South Africa and its ruling African National Congress (ANC), on the other.
“There is a resolution that the ANC took that all leaders of the ANC government, in municipalities, in provincial legislatures, in the organization, must no longer visit Israel,” Obed Bapela, Deputy Minister in the Presidency of South Africa, said in a video posted today by BDS South Africa.
Titles on the video date Bapela’s statement to a 13 March 2013 event at the University of Johannesburg.
Bapela added that there would be “a circular that is going to go to all our comrades that if they get invitations they must just decline.”
Bapela also announced that the South African government would cease to procure goods from Israel.
“Government will be identifying products where it procures itself – not the public, we differentiate between the public and government.”
“Once we have identified which are those goods that we buy … government will cease to procure those goods that are made from Israel.”
Gradually cooling ties
In 2012, deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Ebrahim had stated, “Because of the treatment and policies of Israel towards the Palestinian people, we strongly discourage South Africans from going there.”
Also last year, for the first time ever, the ANC made the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel part of its official policy platform.
Months before that, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete told a conference she had been to Palestine herself and that the Israeli regime was not only comparable but “far worse than Apartheid South Africa.”
And earlier this year Ismail Coovadia, South Africa’s former ambassador in Tel Aviv, publicly rejected eighteen trees planted in his name by Israel’s quasi-official Jewish National Fund (JNF) on land violently expropriated from its Palestinian owners.