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Former South African envoy rejects honour from ‘apartheid Israel’

    JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek, left, with Chief Rabbi, planting in Israel in 2011
    JNF UK chairman Samuel Hayek, left, with Chief Rabbi, planting in Israel in 2011

    The chairman of JNF UK has challenged a South African politician who refused to have trees in Israel planted in his name.

    Ismail Coovadia, the former ambassador to Israel from March 2009 until last December, was presented with a gift from the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the end of his term in office.

    The gift included an honorary certificate from the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Rafael Barak, the director general of the Foreign Ministry, said 18 trees were planted by JNF in Mr Coovadia’s honour. The trees are planted within the pre-1967 lines.

    But Mr Coovadia said he will return the certificate – a move that has been widely publicised by Israel boycott campaigners.

    “Regrettably, my permission was not sought to plant a tree/s in my or the name of a South African Ambassador on usurped land,” he said. “I was not a party to, and never will be, to the planting of ‘18 trees,’ in my ‘honour,’ on expropriated and stolen land.

    “I have supported the struggle against Apartheid South Africa and now I cannot be a proponent of what I have witnessed in Israel, and that is, a replication of apartheid!”

    Samuel Hayek, chairman of JNF UK, has accused Mr Coovadia of shedding light on “the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the anti-Israel lobby.

    “Mr Coovadia had no problem enjoying all the state honours afforded to foreign ambassadors by the state of Israel, yet has now chosen to so crassly turn an act of appreciation by JNF planting trees for him in Israel into a cheap PR stunt,”said Mr Hayek.

    Paul Charney, chairman of the Zionist Federation UK, said: "I am deeply saddened to see that Mr Coovadia has rejected a JNF honour.

    "Ties between Israel and South Africa must not be endangered due to the former diplomat's actions."

    The ministry has dismissed Mr Coovadia as acting in an “uncouth” manner.

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