Following a long period of pressure on the South African government, South African Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies announced last week [May 19] that any products exported to South Africa from Jewish West Bank settlements would no longer be allowed to carry the "Product of Israel" label and would have to be marked as being from "Occupied Palestinian Territory."
In the notice, Minister Davies explained that consumers should not be fooled about the true origin of products made on "occupied Palestinian territory" and misled to believe that they were made in Israel. He stressed that the responsibility for labeling the goods lay with the merchants. "The government of South Africa recognizes the State of Israel only within the borders delineated by the United Nations in 1984," said Davies. "That area does not include the Palestinian territories captured by Israel in 1967."
Further deterioration of relations
The decision announced by the South African government was been driven by a campaign mounted by, among others, members of the "Open Shuhada Street" organization, an international Palestinian organization which is named after the Shuhada Street, the principal thoroughfare in the West Bank city of Hebron — closed to Palestinians in October 2000 upon the eruption of the Second Intifada.
It has been charged by the organization that the "Ahava" skin care products manufactured in the northern Dead Sea area (in the Israeli West Bank settlement of Mitzpe Shalem) are offered for sale in South African stores carrying a misleading label in violation of two laws: the International Humanitarian Law which prohibits exploitation of resources in occupied territory (passed by the Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land) and the South African law which proscribes the incorrect marking of products by misleading labels.
"The announcement by Minister Davies is a symbolic boost to the Palestinian people," the organization writes on its Web site. "The move serves to protect activists and those opposing the [occupation] regime, Jewish as well as Palestinian, who take the risk of arrest when calling for boycotts."
The announcement by Minister Davies was made several days after another instance of deterioration in South African relations with Israel, when the South African foreign ministry, at the last minute, barred the agriculture minister for the South African Cape Province from attending the International Agricultural Exhibition (Agritech) held in Israel May 15-17.
Following the decision by the South African government, South Africa's ambassador to Israel is to be summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem May 20 or 21 for "a most stern talk," as foreign ministry sources put it, to protest the move. However, it has meanwhile been reported that the South African ambassador disconnected his telephone on Sunday, May 20, apparently to avoid the summons — according to sources in the Israeli Foreign Ministry — and that efforts will continue to send for him for discussion of his government's announcement.
The Israeli foreign ministry has voiced fury over the proposed regulation, claiming that it is "the first of its kind in the world" and has “ugly political and racist aspects.” It has been further noted by foreign ministry sources that the proposed regulation is generally formulated and that it is not at all clear what is deemed a settlement and what is not considered as such by the proposed regulation, which is liable to adversely impact all Israeli products exported to South Africa. "It is shocking to realize that South Africa, of all countries, displays such callousness and is blindly moving down the slippery slope of racism," foreign ministry sources said.
Eldad: Mark imported South African goods in reaction
The decision by the South African government to mark products manufactured in Jewish West Bank settlements as being from "Occupied Palestinian Territory" has given rise to various reactions in the Israeli political establishment. Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad (of the far-right National Union) has called on the Israeli government to mark all South African products imported to Israel with an eye-catching label carrying the wording: "Warning! South African product! History shows: Anti-Semitism is liable to lead to death of Jews." Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud) has said that "the extremist Palestinian incitement is going forward full force."
On the other side of the political map, Knesset member and chairperson of the left-wing social democratic political party Meretz Zahava Galon has said: "The [South African] decision demonstrates that the world is still making a distinction between Israel and the occupied territories and the settlements. It is a highly significant distinction."