A government official has threatened a group of South African students who visited Israel in recent weeks, accusing them of bringing the African National Congress (ANC) into "disrepute."
Obed Bapela, a deputy minister in President Jacob Zuma's office, said the ruling party would "summon" the students for an investigation.
While Dan Brotman, the director of the South Africa Israel Forum, which sponsored the trip to Israel, told Haaretz the goal of it was "not to make [the students] pro-Israel, but to expose them to a narrative they really don't hear in South Africa," Bapela had other ideas.
The deputy minister claimed Israel was "offering free trips and holidays to embarrass the ANC."
He also argued the visit 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.”
Both the South African Zionist Federation and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies condemned Bapela's threats.
It is “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," they wrote.
"What is so wrong – either legally or morally – about a group of young South Africans traveling to another country in order to broaden their knowledge about the situation there?"
"Is Mr. Bapela afraid that by being exposed to information and opinions that differ from his own, they might end up coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusions?” the Jewish groups fired.
They also slammed the hypocrisy of Bapela's statements, noting that groups from South Africa have traveled all over the world “including to countries where serious human rights abuses are taking place. Why is it only Israel that they should not be allowed to visit?”