Boycott Israel, says Jewish minister in S. Africa

Report by Brendan Boyle (Reuters)
First Published: 23/04/02

CAPE TOWN, April 23 (Reuters) - A Jewish minister in the South African government threw his weight behind pressure for sanctions against Israel on Tuesday and said in an interview he would take the call to the cabinet soon.

Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Ronnie Kasrils, a former African National Congress (ANC) guerrilla, joined a small street protest in Cape Town by Jews and Muslims opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

“I am Jewish born. Since Israel purports to speak and act in the name of Jews everywhere... we are saying: No, not in my name. Never,” he told Reuters in an interview later.

Kasrils and Cape Town Jewish businessman Max Ozinsky launched a petition last year distancing themselves from the actions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government.

On Tuesday, Kasrils said the time had come for him to back calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and the isolation of its government.

“People are saying that there should be boycotts, there should be sanctions... I support the call now for the isolation and the boycott of Israel. I support sanctions,” he said.

“That is actually in the interests of all the people – Muslims, Jews and Christians – in the Middle East because the sooner we can stop this conflict... the sooner we can get to negotiations, to a settlement for peace and a recognition of the Palesinian people’s national rights.”

Kasrils said he had discussed his support for the Palestine Support Group in South Africa and its demand for action against Israel with cabinet colleagues and with President Thabo Mbeki.

“It’s something that I am raising, that I certainly will be raising, in the cabinet now... I think the leadership of our country will have to deal with this issue,” he said.

The ANC and its allies the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions have called for strong action against Israel and in support of Palestine.

Mbeki has criticised Sharon’s government, but has not taken a public stance on calls for sanctions.

Kasrils said he had received death threats and public abuse from Jews since he began to speak out against Israel’s actions. Jewish leaders have disowned him.

“The Jewish community here has been brainwashed,” Kasrils said. Only 300 of an estimated 75,000 South African Jews had signed his “Not in my Name” petition.

“We know the confined nature and the narrow point of view and the bigotry of the established leadership of the Jewish people in this country,” he said.