It would appear that South African Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies is something of a labeling whore. But not designer labels, rather his penchant or his obsession with Israel. This began as a declaration of intent to label goods produced outside of the 1948 armistice line as “goods made in the  Occupied Palestinian Territories” and has snowballed into a situation that has possibly and irretrievably damaged the relationship between South African Jewry and the government.

Since 1994 the South African Government has paid lip service to the Jewish community, a community that has and continues to punch above its weight in contributions and experience, not only from a business perspective but from a humanitarian one as well. This is a community that can credit a disproportionate number of activists who fought against the Apartheid regime and contributed to the building of a truly democratic  South Africa. At one time,South Africa prided itself on taking on the role of a possible peace broker in the Middle East and toned down its  rhetoric accordingly.South Africa has always been vociferous about support for a Two State Solution and one wonders why President Zuma’s government does not seem to walk the talk. Post Operation Cast Lead the rhetoric changed with an about face on foreign policy towards Israel.  That was when some pundits began predicting that maybe the golden era of South African Jewry was drawing to a close.

South Africa can boast of having one of the most liberal and highly respected Constitutions in the world. The Constitution protects the rights of minority communities and guards against discrimination of any kind.  Under the South African Constitution, South African Jewry has the right to be heard and their issues and concerns considered.

With this one act that has shown little or no regard for the concerns of the community, the South African government has driven a permanent wedge between the two parties and now South African Jewry is in a position where it has to re-evaluate its standing  in South African society. It has been made quite clear that it no longer has the same status it once enjoyed – the status of a respected and beneficent minority that has written a positive chapter in the book of South African history.

This re-labelling move constitutes flagrant flouting of international law which states that members of the World Trade Organisation cannot discriminate against imports from fellow WTO members. This Most Favoured Nation (MFN) principle means thatSouth Africacannot introduce legislation to impede or discriminate against the import of goods from fellow WTO members of whichIsraelis one.  Because there is no State of Palestine, no WTO agreements are in force there..

Jewish communal leadership under the auspices of the SA Zionist Federation and Board of Deputies recently addressed the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee where it was agreed that they would have a 30-day respite to re-submit any objections and consolidate their case. This is the first time in the history of the community that legal proceedings were introduced which emphasises the veracity of the situation. But Davies has gone rogue. He has simply cocked a snoot at South Africa’s parliament in pursuit of a direction that is destructive and divisive..

This week the Minister flouted the ruling of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee and  Department of Trade and Industry legislation and has government gazetted an almost foregone conclusion that would see goods imported as being from the Israeli Occupied Territories (IOT). This new notice introduces penalties that are far more severe than the initial notice. The penalty for contravention is a fine of up to R1-million or a year in prison.

One wonders what has prompted Davies to embark on a decision that is not only discriminatory but also very questionable. It would appear that he is acting solely or at least primarily on the recommendations of Open Shuhada Street, an NGO that does not represent any minority but rather espouses a policy of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish State. Anyone who has a genuine concern for a lasting and negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians knows that calls for BDS are counter-productive and do little to enhance positive discourse.

The message has been made abundantly clear to the South African Jewish community. Your pleas fall on deaf ears. Your concerns are of little importance to this current administration. One thing is for sure, the time has come for the community to re-evaluate its status in South Africa and only time will tell what kind of trajectory this will take.