Relations between Jerusalem and Pretoria appear to be on a further downswing after South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said over the weekend that her fellow cabinet members refrain from visiting Israel as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians.
"Our Palestinian friends have never asked us to disengage with Israel. They had asked us in formal meetings to not engage with the regime," Nkoana-Mashabane was quoted by The Times of South Africa as saying.
She added that her country intends to limit its interaction with Israel.
"We have agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better," she said.
"The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle," she 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 ['Bantustans, or territories set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa], and that broke my heart."
Nkoana-Mashabane's comments came in response to Israel's announcement last week that it intends to build thousands of housing units beyond the Green Line, but in actuality the ruling South African National Congress party has wide-ranging ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization, formed during the apartheid period, and the country in general is considered to be pro-Palestinian.
MK Avigdor Lieberman (Likud-Beytenu) called Nkoana-Mashabane's comments "a combination of hypocrisy and classic anti-Semitism."
"This is the same government," said Lieberman, "that only a year ago its policemen indiscriminately shot and killed 34 platinum miners because they 'dared' to strike and that afterwards even wanted to try the surviving miners in court by invoking a law from the apartheid period. This is the same government that does not deal and is not concerned with what is going on with its neighbors, not with the murder of journalists in Mali and not with the terrorist attacks in Kenya; it is mainly concerned with matters thousands of kilometers away with the Palestinians.
"The South African government creates an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic atmosphere, which means that a pogrom against the Jews in that country is only a matter of time. I call on all the Jews still living there to move to Israel as soon as possible and without delay, before it is too late."
Meanwhile, South Africa recently saw the launch of a campaign to free 5,000 Palestinian "political prisoners" from Israeli jails, including Marwan Barghouti, the former head of the Tanzim terrorist organization serving five life sentences. The campaign was launched on Robben Island, where former South African President Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for decades.
A diplomatic source in Jerusalem said that the relations between the two countries were already negligible "and there was nothing much to minimize."
"There are no official visits, no consultations," the source said. "There are only formal relations, a small amount of commercial exchange in the private sector, without government interference."
The diplomatic source called Nkoana-Mashabane's comments "an emotional expression that reflects the perception of the person who made them and of the members of her government, as well as their lack of willingness to develop relations or respond to requests to build ties. This is part of the routinely negative treatment we receive from South Africa."