Unions protest visit by Israeli 'hate-monger'
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began a four-day visit to South Africa on Wednesday that pro-Palestinian groups denounced as a retreat from the struggle for equality embraced by President Thabo Mbeki’s government.
Olmert, who is also his country’s Trade and Industry Minister, is the most senior Israeli official to visit South Africa since the end of apartheid a decade ago.
He was due to sign an investment protection agreement with South Africa that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) is opposing, saying it will embolden Israel to pursue its hardline policies toward the Palestinians.
Outside a convention centre that was to be the venue for the signing of the investment agreement, a few dozen vocal protesters from the Palestine Solidarity Group gathered, waving placards that read “Israel and Zionism Equals Racism” and “Isolate Apartheid Israel”.
“We are protesting against his presence in South Africa,” said Naeem Jeenah, spokesperson for the Palestine Solidarity Group.
“He is the most racist of all Israeli politicians. When he was mayor of Jerusalem, he literally ordered the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” said Jeenah.
“It’s a reversal to apartheid times, when the two apartheid states in the world enjoyed a close relationship,” he added.
Since it swept to power with the end of apartheid in 1994, the African National Congress, Africa’s oldest liberation movement, has taken a decidedly pro-Palestinian stance, harshly criticising Israel for building settlements in the Palestinian territories.
But Mbeki’s government has been warming up to Israel, inviting members of the governing Likud Party to talks in Pretoria last month and offering to share South Africa’s experience of reconciliation.
The unions and pro-Palestinian groups have been angered by the move, saying that Pretoria is merely seeking to win Israeli investment without regard for its policies.
“South Africa should be leading a global campaign for Israel’s isolation and sanctions on an immoral government,” said Jeenah.
Cosatu said the investment agreement will “further embolden the Israeli regime and strengthen its determination to defy worldwide condemnations of the brutal policies they have inflicted on the people of Palestine”.
The South African NGO Coalition also said that “while Olmert travels freely, this right of movement, free speech and the right to national self-determination are denied to the Palestinian people”.
“The visit of a hate-monger like Olmert is not in the best interests of the people of Israel and Palestine,” it said in a statement, urging people to turn out for protests.
But Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said the “essence” of the visit is to encourage dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians, and not to broaden economic ties.
“The context of the visit is our ongoing effort to find a resolution to the crisis,” he said.
“After this there will be a visit by a top-level Palestinian leader for similar discussions,” he added without giving details.—Sapa-AFP