Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane File picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg - The SA Jewish Board of Deputies has bemoaned a remark by International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane that South African ministers do not visit Israel.

“These statements contradict previous assurances the minister had given to the Jewish leadership that her government wished to play a role in helping Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their differences and would engage with both parties to further that end,” national board director Wendy Kahn said in a statement.

“They are further inconsistent with South African foreign policy in general, which is not to boycott other governments but rather to continually engage with them.”

Kahn said when the board last spoke to her Nkoana-Mashabane expressed an interest in South Africa playing a role in advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by bringing about a negotiated two-state solution.

She said if South Africa applied “discriminatory punitive measures” against Israel then it would contribute nothing to the peace process.

“Aside from doing nothing to bring about a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine question, (Nkoana-Mashabane's comment) serves also to undermine this country's credibility as a factor in global conflict resolution,” Kahn said.

On Friday, Nkoana-Mashabane said the country's ministers did not visit Israel and that the board knew why.

“Ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently. Even the Jewish Board of Deputies that we engage with here, they know why our ministers are not going to Israel,” she said at a Congress of SA Trade Unions' international relations committee meeting.

She said South Africa had not been asked to “close down” diplomatic relations with Israel, but that an agreement had been made to slow down and curtail leadership contact until things began to look better.

“The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.

“The last time I saw a map of Palestine, I couldn't go to sleep... It is just dots, smaller than those of the homelands, and that broke my heart.”

The meeting was also addressed by a group campaigning for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners, including Marwan Barghouti, who had become a symbol of the Palestinian struggle.

Sapa