South African Chief Rabbi attacks Israel boycott minister

The chief rabbi of South Africa has accused a government minister, who suggested people should not visit Israel, of repeating “the sins of the apartheid regime” and shunning dialogue. He called for him to step down.

The Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim, told a newspaper that his government “strongly” discouraged people from visiting Israel because of its policies regarding the Palestinians, and said that it was not proper for South Africans to associate with “an occupier country”.

In comments that were interpreted as a call for a boycott of Israel, Mr Ebrahim said South African companies should not have “anything to do with strengthening the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories”.

Dr Warren Goldstein, in an open letter published by the Business Day live website, accused Mr Ebrahim of “abusing” his role to promote his personal agenda.

“You obviously have a "blind spot" when it comes to Israel; you lose your sense of objectivity and rationality when dealing with the Jewish state,” he wrote, adding that the campaign to prevent South Africans going to Israel was only one example of his “irrational obsession with Israel to the detriment of the proper execution of your governmental duties”.

Dr Goldstein pointed out that Israel and South Africa had full diplomatic relations, hence a call for a boycott was a breach of this, and further asked why South Africans should be prevented from making up their own minds about Israel. “Your actions hark back to apartheid-style control of information and censorship,” he said, noting that Israeli Arabs had full citizenship rights and stood in senior positions in society. “Are you worried that they will see that, in fact, there is no apartheid in Israel?” he asked.

“Maybe you are afraid that South African trade unionists will discover that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where there are legal and active trade unions that protect workers’ rights,” he added.

Dr Goldstein said the minister was endangering his country’s “international credibility” yet at the same tome remaining too quiet on attacks in Syria. “It is indeed the ideological allies of Hamas and Hizbollah — Israel’s sworn enemies — who have also launched a terror campaign against Christian communities throughout Africa,” he said. “Nigeria, one of our key African partners, has borne the brunt of some of the worst attacks.”

“Especially during such turbulent times, how does a minister of international relations discourage people from travelling and seeing for themselves?” he asked. “Why do you repeat the sins of the apartheid regime and shun dialogue with and understanding of the "other"?”

Mr Ebrahim’s comments were made amid worsening relations between Israel and South Africa. Earlier this year the Trade and Industry Minister called for labelling of produce from the settlements. But according to the Times of Israel, not all South Africans have heeded his call. King Goodwill Zwelithini, the current Zulu king, has reportedly accepted an offer to visit Israel made by the envoy to South Africa.

Last updated: 1:12pm, August 17 2012