Israel, which has maintained close military and economic ties with South Africa for nearly four decades, today continued to distance itself from the minority white rule in Pretoria, but stopped short of joining calls by the European Community for economic sanctions.
Falling into step with the EC's reaction to the declaration of a state of emergency in South Africa, Israel closed its embassy in Pretoria for one day today in symbolic protest.
However, senior Israeli officials said they doubted that the reaction would go far beyond that, and, in any case, would not likely involve a reduction in Israel's diplomatic representation in South Africa.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said last night that Israel viewed with "great severity" the imposition of emergency law in South Africa.
"In keeping with its consistent stand in principle in opposition to the policy of apartheid, Israel is convinced that the recent escalation of the situation necessarily contains serious dangers to the peace of all parts of the populations of South Africa," Shamir said. Several members of the parliament, however, called for stronger measures against South Africa in light of the recent emergency clampdown.
Haim Ramon, of the Labor Party, called the symbolic closing of the Pretoria embassy "far from sufficient," and urged the government to reduce Israel's diplomatic representation in South Africa.
"It is the least that the state that survived racism can do in its relations with the state that built itself on racism," Ramon said.
When asked how severing relations with Pretoria would effect the South African Jewish community of about 120,000 people -- or affect Israel's economic interests there -- Ramon replied that the same questions were asked when Jews unsuccessfully tried to emigrate from Europe before World War II.
"I think it was a mistake in those days when it concerned Jewish people. I think it is a mistake these days when it concerns black people," he said.
The parliament's South Africa subcommittee, chaired by a former ambassador to the United States, Simcha Dinitz, met today. Later, Dinitz told reporters:
"Of course we joined the sharp universal denunciation of apartheid, a policy which almost the entire enlightened world got rid of a long time ago. We, as a Jewish state, must not only join, but must, in fact, become one of the leaders in condemning apartheid, since it is a racist policy."
Dinitz stressed, however, that Israel is not an important factor in exerting world pressure on South Africa. He said, "What Israel can use is, perhaps, its moral force and words."
Ever since it established relations with South Africa in 1948, Israel has been keenly sensitive about those ties, attempting to balance its perceived support of apartheid policies with an effort to establish friendly relations with black African nations.
In 1967, South Africa forged a bond with Israel by supplying spare parts for its French-built Mirage fighters after France cut off military aid to Israel. After most of black Africa severed ties with Israel in 1973, South Africa and Israel signed a comprehensive military and commercial pact.
Under the government of Menachem Begin, Israel expanded its trade relations with South Africa, with Israeli businessmen investing heavily in its black homelands, a key feature of apartheid.