Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has rejected accusations by the Israeli government that he is racist by demanding that products coming from occupied Palestinian territories be correctly labelled.
Davies said yesterday that he did not believe that the action by his department would lead to a boycott of goods and products from Israel.
Briefing journalists in Parliament, Davies said they have issued a notice that would compel traders to label products that come from occupied Palestinian territories that they are indeed from those territories.
Davies said he had issued a notice on the labelling of products following a complaint lodged by the Palestinian NGO Open Shuhada that products originating from the occupied Palestinian territories were incorrectly labelled as coming from Israel.
He said South Africa had a responsibility of implementing its consumer protection law against the origin of products.
In 2009 Britain had a similar situation in which it required products from the West Bank be properly labelled.
It was an offence in the UK to label such products from Israel when their place of origin was the Palestinian territories.
“South African consumers have a right to be informed of the correct products through labelling,” said Davies.
He said the notice issued by the department would be for public comment until the middle of July.
In line with the international community, South Africa recognised the borders of 1948 between Israel and Palestine.
Davies said they did not seek the boycott of goods from Israel.
All that South Africa was requesting was that the products from the occupied Palestinian territories be correctly labelled, he said. The country’s decision has created “a hyperbole” and labelling that Davies was racist.
The Israeli foreign ministry described the decision taken by Davies as a “racist move”.
Davies rejected suggestions that he was racist or anti-Semitic.
He said South Africa did not support the occupation of Palestine outside the 1967 borders.
He said he was aware that South Africa’s ambassador to Israel has been summoned by that government to explain this decision. The decision has been supported by representatives of Palestine, he said, adding that he did not expect any kind of backlash from Israel.
The products that come from Palestine were cosmetic brands and soft drinks.
“Whoever sells these products in South Africa will have the onus (to prove) where these products are from. Consumers have a right (to know) where they are from.”
Cosatu has supported the government’s decision.
Spokesperson Patrick Craven said it would be important to re-label goods that come from Israel that they in fact originate from occupied Palestinian territories.
“The South African government correctly recognises the state of Israel only within the borders demarcated by the UN in 1948, which do not include Palestinian territories occupied after 1967,” said Craven.
Craven dismissed the attack on Davies by the Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson that the minister was racist.