Dirco director-general Jerry Matjila

Tebogo Monama and Vuyo Mkize

THE Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) has been asked to clarify its “co-operation” agreement with Israel.

This after several government officials, including Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete, came out strongly against Israel last week during Israeli Apartheid Week.

But at the same time, Dirco director-general Jerry Matjila met his Israeli counterpart, Dr Dore Gold. According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Matjila and Gold met in Pretoria on Thursday and agreed “that officials from South Africa and Israel will work together on national policy issues such as water, agriculture, trade and science and technology”.

This appeared to contradict Mbete’s views. Speaking at Stellenbosch University on Friday at the 12th annual international #IsraeliApartheidWeek campaign, Mbete said in part: “It would be fair to say progress has been slow. The Israeli regime, just like the apartheid regime before it, is obstinate and uncompromising. But apartheid eventually crumbled under the weight of history.

“The iron will of South Africans eventually triumphed and we remain confident that the yearning for freedom of the Palestinian people will prevail in the end.”

In his ANC January 8 statement this year, President Jacob Zuma discouraged ANC members from visiting Israel, saying: “We reiterate we discourage travel to Israel for ANC leaders, members and representatives for business and leisure purposes. The ANC encourages our government to continue its programme of talking to all parties in the Palestinian territory and calls on the people of Palestine to work together to bring about self-determination.”

Several ministers, among them Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Deputy Minister in the Presidency Buti Manamela and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Deputy Minister Obed Bapela, have also led campaigns against Israel.

Yesterday, Matjila declined to comment on the meeting. He referred questions to Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela, who confirmed the meeting.

“It was a consultation meeting and no agreements were signed. The meeting was taking place at an administrative level,” Monyela said, adding that the meeting doesn’t mean the government isn’t sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

“We have diplomatic relations with Israel, but that doesn’t mean we won’t support Palestine. South Africa has a big Jewish community and even some Christians go to Israel, which they see as holy ground. If we don’t have a relationship with Israel, who will take care of our people when they go there.”

However, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement Against Israel (BDS) called on Dirco to make a public declaration on what exactly the meeting was about.

A water conference Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Arthur Lenk, was due to address in Sandton on February 26 was cancelled, following criticism of his inclusion as speaker.

BDS blamed opposition to Lenk’s inclusion for the cancellation, stating that “the Israeli regime has in recent years been attempting to break its growing isolation by promoting its water technology”.

But the Israeli embassy says the conference organisers, the Mail & Guardian, has denied Lenk had been the reason for the cancellation.

The M&G organised the conference in conjunction with the Department of Water and Sanitation.