Above Board 25 May 2012
At the time of writing, the Board is wrestling with the complex question of how products originating from Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank should be labelled. This is in response to a notice in the Government Gazette issued by the Department of Trade and Industry to the effect that such products should not continue to be labelled products of Israel since they originate in “occupied Palestinian territory”. The notice called for the public’s input, and the Board intends making such a submission. We are working closely with other Jewish communal organisations with an interest in the matter, as well as consulting with the relevant experts in the field, including trade lawyers.
Our objections to these developments have as much to do with procedural as substantive questions. The decision taken by the Minister was based solely on representations made to him by a single lobby group, one with a pronounced anti-Israel political agenda. Despite repeated approaches from the SAJBD, he has declined to allow us an opportunity of participating in the conversation. As we stated in our press release, it was regrettable that notwithstanding the consultative ethos of South Africa, the Minister had decided to gazette the issue without broad consultation.
The question of products originating from disputed territories is a technically complicated one. Sometimes, it is tied up with the terms of free trade agreements, as is the case between Israel and the EU countries. In the South African context, however, any changes to current labelling policies would be based primarily on political criteria. From the politically loaded wording of the Gazette notice, there is no doubt that the Minister has largely prejudged the issue and in doing so politicised what should be considered a technical trade-related question.
In our press statement, we also urged that South Africa not adopt a policy that was “discriminatory and inconsistent with how it deals with similar questions relating to products imported from other parts of the world”. In other words, making it a legal requirement that only products from the disputed territory of the West Bank be labelled accordingly would certainly seem to constitute both inconsistency and discrimination. In order to deflect such accusations, South African policy would have to require that products originating from all disputed territories to be labelled as such. This would include such disputed territories as Tibet, North Cyprus, Kashmir and Western Sahara.
Because of the sensitive nature of the processes involved, both from a legal and a political point of view, the exact nature of the steps we are considering obviously cannot be discussed at this stage. What I can do is assure the community that we view this latest challenge to the South Africa-Israel relationship in a serious light and will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to address it.
Listen to “Jewish Board Talk” every Tuesday evening on 101.9 Chai FM with Steven Gruzd from 20h00-21h00, repeated Sundays 11h00-12h00 On Tuesday 29 May, Steve plans to chat to Howard Sackstein about the annual Jewish Achievers Awards; Linda Menuhin Abdel Aziz, an Iraqi refugee in Israel and Tamar Lazarus from WIZO; SAUJS’ Dan Ginsberg discusses Birthright; and Michael Bagraim reflects on the BEE debate hosted by the SAJBD’s Cape Council that evening. Also streaming on www.chaifm.com
This Above Board column first appeared in the SA Jewish Report on 25 May 2012