The latest comments by South Africa's deputy international relations minister, saying that he ''discourages'' South Africans from visiting Israel, keep making headlines.
South African newspapers, such as the 'Cape Times' and 'The Mercury Durban' described the remarks as a categorical and official admission by the SA government to a policy of discouraging South Africans from visiting Israel. The story has been published in many of the national and regional papers.
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The South African Jewish Board of deputies issued on Wednesday a statement of its own, deploring Ebrahim Ebrahim's statement: ''Such a stance is grossly discriminatory, counter-productive and wholly inconsistent with how South Africa normally conducts its international relations, and contradicts its official policy of having full diplomatic ties with Israel.
The result of such a policy is that South Africa, instead of lending its weight to international efforts to bring about a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, will be seen to be supporting those who wish to promote a complete boycott of Israel and to that end, seek to shut down any initiatives aimed at meaningful dialogue.''
The Board accused the deputy minister of censoring Israel's viewpoint, and shutting down any initiative aimed at a meaningful dialogue: ''Only through visiting Israel and engaging at first hand with the various role-players and issues on the ground, can people gain a better understanding of the situation there, yet it is precisely such visits that Deputy Minister Ebrahim is seeking to prevent,'' read the statement.
Several members of the Jewish community in Johannesburg and Cape Town expressed outrage over Ebrahim Ebrahim's declarations, ''especially in the current political climate, where anti-Israeli statements and action seem to follow each other every second week,'', said one of them, referring to the latest proposal to ban the labeling of products from the West Bank as "made in Israel."
Speaking at a press conference in Pretoria Tuesday, Ebrahim Ebrahim denied that his statements were part of an official policy aimed at boycotting Israel, stressing that SA has not changed the nature of its bilateral relations with Israel: ''“What we are saying as a government is that we discourage South Africans from visiting Israel. We do not prevent them. We say we discourage them…The decision is left to the individual or the organization that is invited to visit Israel,'' he said.
The deputy minister is expected to comment on the issue on a public radio program this week. The Israeli embassy in Pretoria declined an invitation to confront him on the same program, saying that Israel will address the issue through dialogue with the South African government, and not "on the air."
According to the MFA's spokesman's office in Jerusalem, these declarations contradict the official SA line, which encourages dialogue, and also come close to declaring a boycott on Israel. The Israeli ambassador, Dov Segev-Steinberg, will meet South African officials in the coming days to ask for clarification on the SA policy.
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