May 21, 2012
Israel summons South African envoy over product labeling
Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the South African ambassador to Israel over the publication of a notice announcing a ban on labeling as Israeli products that originate from the West Bank.
Ismail Coovadia was scheduled to visit the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Monday; no announcement was made by that night on whether such a meeting had taken place.
The Foreign Ministry was unable to call in Coovadia on Sunday because he turned off his cell phone, according to reports.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called the South African decision to affix special labels on West Bank goods “racist.”
‘‘This is singling Israel out on a clearly political and national basis. This decision has racist characteristics,” Palmor said. “The government of South Africa does not clarify in the new regulation what is defined as made in Judea and Samaria. The European Union has a list and clear criteria to distinguish between products made in Israeli settlements and those that are not. The vague phrasing in the South African regulation shows that there are no clear criteria and therefore it will hurt Israeli products in general. “
Palmor added that Israel has not received any information on the matter from the South African authorities.
A spokesman from the South African Department of International Relations refused to comment on the issue, saying only that the ambassador would visit the Foreign
Ministry in Jerusalem for consultations. ‘‘This is a notice issued by the trade ministry, therefore the matter lies within their responsibility,’’ the spokesman emphasized.
Mary Kluk, national chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, issued a statement Monday saying that South African Trade Minister Rob Davies’ decision has transformed a technical trade issue into a political one.
‘‘This decision was taken by the minister based on his communications with lobby groups that have a pronounced anti-Israel political agenda,” Kluk said. “He has repeatedly declined to meet with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in this regard.”
Kluk told JTA on Sunday that the Jewish community plans to submit its reservations on the proposal in the coming days. Jewish community leaders are deliberating with a legal team and intend to pursue the matter vigorously, she said.
Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat spoke with the heads of the Jewish community in South Africa and encouraged them to act on the matter, and to pressure other members of the government to distance themselves from the trade minister’s decision.
Livnat visited South Africa two months ago and met with her counterpart, Paul Mashatile. The minister told Livnat that his country will not promote sanctions against Israel.