A diplomatic battle has broken out between the South African and Israeli government after South Africa took steps to isolate Israel–steps the Israeli government has labeled “racist.” The conflict began when the South African government prevented a provincial official from making a formal visit to Israel, and accelerated when South Africa announced that it would no longer allow products made in the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel.”
South Africa–both “old” and “new”–has a long history of coddling dictatorships and rogue states. Most recently, it has protected Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and protested the removal of Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya. South Africa eagerly courts trade with oppressive states in the Arab world, but has made protest against Israel’s perceived misdeeds one of the cornerstones of its increasingly decrepit foreign policy. In addition, radical Islam has a foothold in South Africa; pro-Taliban fighters recruited openly in the country after 9/11.
Israel has faced threats of such official boycotts before, but quiet promises of retaliation have been enough to ward them off. According to the South African government’s own statistics, South African benefits greatly from trade with Israel, exporting $2 worth of goods and services for every $1 imported from Israel.
Anti-Israel activists hope that South Africa’s stance will spur calls for similar measures around the world. However, past efforts at boycotting Israel–officially and unofficially–have been met with stiff opposition from leaders in the democratic world.
Members of South Africa’s Jewish community, as well as several prominent human rights activists, have denounced the South African government’s new hostility to Israel as reflecting the view of a small but influential group of radical activists. Israel summoned South Africa’s ambassador for an explanation of his country’s new stance, and what has begun as a diplomatic spat could end with the wholesale severing of relations.