South Africa’s cabinet has said it had approved the placing of Occupied Palestinian Territory labels on imported goods from Jewish settlements.
"This is in line with South Africa’s stance that recognizes the 1948 borders delineated by the United Nations and does not recognize occupied territories beyond these borders as being part of the state of Israel," government spokesman Jimmy Manyi told a press briefing on Wednesday.
The trade minister was given the nod to issue a notice requiring that products are marked so that buyers knew their origin is not Israel, but beyond the Green Line, Manyi said.
The plan has already met protests in South Africa and been criticized by Israel’s foreign ministry. Local Jewish leaders said on Wednesday that the community was outraged over what they called "discriminatory, divisive" measures.
"At bottom, they are believed to be motivated not by technical trade concerns but by political bias against the state of Israel. All attempts to discuss these concerns, however, have come to nothing," the South African Jewish Board of Deputies said in a statement.
South Africa says its backing of Palestine stems from its own history of apartheid, oppression and rights abuses.
Ebrahim Ebrahim, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, recently expressed "concern by high profile and government institutions’ visits to Israel as it gives legitimacy to Israel occupation of Palestine land".
‘Boycott in Disguise’
The trade ministry in May invited public comments on the labels, saying traders must put the tags on so that consumers will "not be misled".
South Africa’s relations with Israel have been uneasy for years but reached a new low last Sunday when Ebrahim called on the citizens of his country to avoid visiting Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.
"Israel is an occupier country which is oppressing Palestine, so it’s not proper for South Africans to associate with Israel," Ebrahim, told City Press newspaper.
"We discourage people from going there except if it has to do with the peace process."
Ebrahim’s comments provoked an angry response from the Israeli foreign ministry.
"This proves our point," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said. "All their initiatives to mutually inform, as it were, the consumer, are nothing but a boycott in disguise."
The foreign ministry also claimed that the new labelling "smacked of racism".
South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said on Wednesday that the move was not a boycott of Israeli products, but aimed at helping "South Africans who do not support Israel, but who in fact do support the Palestinians, to identify those products".
Ebrahim said that although South Africa should "scale down" its economic ties to Israel, they are not talking about a complete breakdown of relations.
(Agencies via Al Jazeera)