August 30, 2014

South Africa pushes for accurate labeling of West Bank products, angers Israel

South Africa Jewish groups have expressed anger over a move by the nation’s government that could see Israeli products manufactured in occupied Palestinian territories and sold in South Africa, labelled to indicate their place of origin.

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies

Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced that Israeli products made in occupied Palestinian territories would no longer be labeled “Made in Israel, a move that the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and SA Zionist Federation are firmly against.

“This decision was taken… based on communications with lobby groups that have a pronounced anti-Israel political agenda,” SAJBD spokesperson Charisse Zeifert said in a statement on Monday.

The SA Zionist Federation said Davies relied on the views of groups whose aims were to enforce a regime of boycotts and sanctions against Israel, SAPA rpeorted.

“At the same time the minister has refused to meet and consult with interest groups opposed to his position on this matter,” it said in a statement.

Davies told reporters that the government is requiring through the notice that products “be correctly labelled and it will then be up to consumers in South Africa whether they want to purchase those products or not.”

“We are not seeking to prevent the entry of such products into South Africa,” he said.

While trade between both countries is modest, Israel is concerned that labeling products thus would create far reaching economic and political problems. The concern is changing labels could provide pro-Palestinian activists the opportunity to boycott products made by Israeli factories in the West Bank, disputed territory claimed by Israel in the 1967 war and which Palestinians lay claim to as part of a future state.

SAJBD spokesperson said Davies has refused to meet with the board and has urged the SA government not to prejudge what is a “technically complicated” issue.

According to Zeifert, the board expressed regrets that the Minister put forth the proposal before consultation and has said that South Africa should avoid adopting a discriminatory policy for Israel which it has not done with products imported from other parts of the world.

The policy has gathered support from the Congress of SA Trade Unions, who said in a statement that it “warmly welcomes and fully supports the decision of the department of trade and industry that certain goods originating from Israel must be re-labelled”.

COSATU spokesperson, Patrick Craven, further reiterated support for the “Palestinian solidarity campaign for boycotts, sanctions, and divestments of Israel.”

Davies on Monday called on the general public to comment on the policy, adding that South African consumers had the right to accurate information to help inform their purchasing decisions.

Davies argued that South Africa is not unique in its demands for accurate labeling.

The British department of food, environment, and rural affairs not only requires accurate labeling of products made in the West Bank, but also asks that a distinction be made between Palestinian products and products from Israeli manufacturers working in the territories.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has blasted South Africa’s plan.

“This is a decision that’s tainted with what seems to be racist motivation,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters. He said the ministry intended to convey its displeasure in a “tough talk” with South Africa’s ambassador.

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