Tensions between the ruling African National Congress party and the South African Jewish community rose this week after a senior government official threatened to punish students who visited Israel.
Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Jacob Zuma’s office, charged the students, who visited Israel recently under the auspices of the South Africa Israel Forum, with bringing the ANC into “disrepute” and said the party would “summon” them to an investigation.
Bapela said Israel was “offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC,” adding that it was a “campaign by Israel to distort our stand on Palestine. We have a clear position that supports Palestinian freedom.
No leader of the ANC in a private capacity or for the party will visit Israel. It will be putting the ANC in disrepute.”
No official ban has been placed on members of the government or ANC traveling to Israel.
The director of the forum told Israeli media that the students “were under enormous pressure not to come or received threats over being kicked out of their political parties.”
Both the South African Zionist Federation the Jewish Board of Deputies responded harshly to Bapela, calling his statement an “uncalled for attack” and stating that it was “deeply disturbing that a member of the South African government should condemn and threaten to punish those who have simply exercised their democratic right to freedom of thought and association.”
SOURCE: SAM SOKOL