We were aware that when we decided to join with other organisations in opposing the Department of Trade and Industry’s proposed new labelling legislation for products emanating in Jewish West Bank enclaves that the process would be a lengthy and complex one. Perhaps the most frustrating obstacle we would have to contend against was the attitude of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, whose actions and statements clearly intimated that he had prejudged the issue in favour of the pro-Palestinian lobby and was simply not interested in engaging with alternate views. Prior to issuing his original Notice he had ignored over thirty approaches from our side to meet with him. When a meeting finally did take place, his overtly disdainful and dismissive demeanour suggested that he was no more than going through the motions of public consultation when in reality, in his own words, the matter was “a done deal”.
Given this background we were gratified, as reported in my previous column, to be given the opportunity of participating in the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry’s public hearings on the Notice. Representatives of all the main parties in Parliament were in attendance and participated in the debate. Overall, we were much encouraged by the Committee’s willingness to listen to our concerns and to try and find constructive solutions going forward. Crucially, it was agreed that further submissions would be requested from the stakeholders, outlining what were the minimal demands that each felt would be satisfactory in resolving the matter, before any final Notice was issued. The Minister’s representative at the Portfolio Committee meeting explicitly stated that there would “not be a final notice without talking to the public”. It was further agreed that all ‘minimum requirement documents’ would be submitted on or before 15 October, and both the SAJBD and SAZF ensured that this was done.
The ink was hardly dry on this agreement when we received a communication advising that a second Notice had now been issued, with the public having a 30-day period in which to comment on it. It represented yet another circumvention of the consultation process by Minister Davies, who in his evident obsession with forcing through the measure demonstrated that he was not only uninterested in the Jewish community’s concerns but was also quite happy to disregard his own Parliamentary Portfolio Committee’s considered recommendation that no Final Notice should be delayed until proper public participation process had taken place.
Notwithstanding this latest setback, we remain committed as ever to fighting this battle, and in this regard will continue to explore all available diplomatic and legal avenues. Certainly, we will be making another detailed submission on the latest Notice, which has in no way allayed our concerns and in certain ways has gone even further than its predecessor in singling out Israel for discriminatory, inconsistent and unreasonable treatment.
What really is so saddening about all of this is how private political agendas have been allowed to undermine the principle of public participation and consumer protection in our country. We have always respected these rules and sought to play by them, in turn expecting that, as South African citizens, we would be able to make meaningful input into the process. While we will continue to do this, it has to be said that our confidence in the system has been much eroded.
- Listen to Steven Gruzd on Jewish Board Talk on 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00-13:00.
This Above Board Column first appeared in the SA Jewish Report of 19 October 2012