Similar to the step taken by the EU last week, South Africa on Wednesday approved a plan requiring products imported from Jewish settlements beyond Israel’s “1948 borders delineated by the United Nations” to be labeled as from “Occupied Palestinian Territory” rather than being marked as Israeli. As justification for the move, South Africa invoked its own apartheid history, comparing its racist past to current Israeli policy. Interestingly, no borders were delineated by the UN in 1948, so it is unclear whether Pretoria is referencing the 1947 UN Partition Plan or the 1949 armistice lines.
South Africa’s decision further strains its already damaged relations with Israel. On August 10, Ebrahim Ebrahim, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, instructed South Africans not to travel to Israel, referring to the Jewish state as “an occupier country” making it improper for South Africans to visit. Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Dov Segev-Steinberg, said that Ebrahim’s statement represents a boycott of Israel. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the same of the country’s decision to label settlement products as from “occupied” land — specifically, that it constitutes a boycott and is racist.
Ahava, an Israeli cosmetics company, will no longer be able to have its products carry the “Made in Israel” label in South Africa.
South Africa’s policies are in line with the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has made unfortunate headway with its cause to isolate and delegitimize Israel despite experts’ claims that the movement encourages Palestinian terrorism and delays the peace process. Its recent ‘successes’ include: the United Church of Canada boycotting settlement goods, a delegation of South African mayors canceling a visit to Israel, the University of KwaZulu-Natal disinviting an Israeli envoy scheduled to give a lecture, and the University of Johannesburg withdrawing from a joint research project with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Israel, of course, is not an apartheid state. Israeli Arabs vote, are represented in parliament, and are entitled to free speech. There is no statewide institutionalized segregation; Israeli Arabs shop, dine, and swim alongside Jews. And unlike in Apartheid South Africa, Israeli Jews do not rule over their Arab compatriots. In fact, in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians live under self-rule. Even Richard Goldstone, who condemned Israel’s actions during Operation Cast Lead, refutes the apartheid comparison and notes that unfortunate features of life in the West Bank, such as checkpoints and the separation barrier, exist only to protect Israelis from terrorism and are not in place to dominate Palestinians.
Like the BDS movement, the apartheid analogy is one that simply seeks to delegitimize Israel. By falsely labeling Israel an apartheid state, South Africa is doomed to repeat its past.