Last Thursday evening, the Board partnered with the Mizrachi Shul in holding a memorial service for victims of the Marikana shooting tragedy, and for all victims of violence in South Africa. This was in response to President Zuma’s designating that day as being the one where the countries faith communities would hold such services.
In the midst of the week of mourning, we learned that Cabinet had seen fit to approve the Minister of Trade and Industry’s notice requiring that goods emanating from what it refers to as “Israeli occupied territories” be relabeled. We were outraged by what we saw as a cavalier attempt by government to bypass the consultation process set in motion by the notice, as well as by its dismissive attitude towards our concerns. In our press statement, to which the SA Zionist Federation and Chief Rabbi were joint signatories, we deplored the manner in which South African Jewry’s representatives had been denied any meaningful opportunity of explaining their position and airing the concerns they feel, despite having consistently demonstrated a willingness to engage with government on the issue. With regard to the proposed relabeling measures themselves, these were, “discriminatory, divisive, inconsistent with South African trade policy and seriously flawed from both an administrative and procedural point of view”. At bottom, they were motivated “not by technical trade concerns but by political bias against the State of Israel”.
Notwithstanding the Cabinet’s decision, the proposed measures regarding how products from Jewish enclaves in the West Bank will be identified are far from being ratified as official policy. Much of the work of the Board, SAZF and other interested organisations has focused on legal avenues through which our concerns can be addressed, and to that end the SAZF has launched a comprehensive legal challenge against the proposed relabeling policy is currently underway in the courts. From the outset, we have viewed the process adopted by the Minister as being fatally flawed from both a procedural and administrative point of view, and the entire exercise as being politically motivated.
Approaching the courts for relief was adopted only after repeated attempts to address our concerns through engagement with government had been stymied. We certainly would prefer, as a community, not to be embarking on what is likely to be a protracted court battle, but having done so we are committed to seeing it through. The voice of our Jewish community, no less than that of any other constituency in our country, deserves to be heard and not treated with disdain. Regarding the actual issue over which the court is being approached, we are hopeful that whatever policy is ultimately adopted, it will come about through a proper process of consultation, with all duly constituted procedures being correctly followed.
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This Above Board column first appeared in the South African Jewish Report on 31 August 2012