Published today (updated) 03/11/2013 19:51
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- South Africa's foreign minister strongly criticized the Israeli occupation of Palestine and compared the situation in the occupied territories to apartheid in South Africa on Friday.
"The struggle of the people of Palestine is our struggle," South Africa's The Times quoted her as saying.
"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," she added, referring to apartheid-era Bantustans on which black residents of South Africa were forced to live as part of a system of racial separation engineered by the formerly ruling white minority.
"Ministers of South Africa do not visit Israel currently," she added. "We have agreed to slow down and curtail senior leadership contact with that regime until things begin to look better."
"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 as saying.
Israeli politicians lashed out in anger at the minister's statements on Sunday, with one even warning of an impending "pogrom" for South Africa's 75,000-strong Jewish community.
Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel's rightist Yisrael Beitenu party, said that the comments were "a combination of hypocrisy and classic anti-Semitism."
Lieberman said in a statement that "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."
He added: "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."
Lieberman was Israel's foreign minister until December 2012, when he stepped down after being charged with fraud and breach of public trust.
The South African foreign minister's statements follow years of growing pro-Palestinian sentiment in the country, as increasing numbers of high-profile South African diplomats and former anti-apartheid activists have spoken out against Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
In a letter in June, former South African ambassador to Israel Ismail Coovadia described the Israeli occupation of Palestine as "a replication of apartheid."
In December 2012, the ruling African National Congress party voted to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, declaring that it was "unapologetic in its view that the Palestinians are the victims and the oppressed in the conflict with Israel."
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.