Israel’s Tone-Deaf Foreign Policy

by Kevin Jon Heller

South Africa recently decided that, in order to avoid consumer confusion, goods imported from the Occupied Palestinian Territories must include special labels that make clear they were not produced in Israel.  Israel’s outrage was predictable — but its rhetoric was anything but:

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it would summon South Africa’s ambassador to lodge a protest over the decision on labelling goods from Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“Unfortunately it turns out the change that has begun in South Africa over the years has not brought about any basic change in the country, and it remains an apartheid state,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in response to Pretoria’s move.

“At the moment South Africa’s apartheid is aimed at Israel,” added Ayalon, a nationalist hardliner in right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Substantively, Israel’s criticism is absurd.  The South African government isn’t even banning settlement goods, which it would be well within its rights to do; it is simply making it possible for consumers to avoid purchasing goods produced in settlements that it — like nearly every other government in the world — considers to be illegal.  How that qualifies as apartheid is anyone’s guess.  (The Reuters article notes that Ayalon didn’t bother to explain his claim.)

Israel, of course, is free to disagree with South Africa’s decision.  But you’d think that a government that is often accused of pursuing apartheid-like policies would avoid using the rhetoric of apartheid itself — especially to describe a South African state that is still struggling to overcome its racist past.  Israel has obviously decided that it has no reason to maintain even the semblance of cordial diplomatic relations with South Africa.  It better be right — because South Africa is unlikely to forget Israel’s offensive rhetoric anytime soon.

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