Cape Town -The South African government’s decision to recall all its diplomats from Tel Aviv, Israel, has been welcomed by human rights organisations in the country as an appropriate response to the “genocidal airstrikes” in Palestine.
Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, yesterday expressed the government’s disappointment at the refusal of the Israel to respect international law and its continued undermining of the UN resolutions for the implementation of a ceasefire.
She further condemned the remarks of the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, against South Africans, including civil society, who were speaking out against the crimes committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians.
“The genocidal airstrikes by the government of Israel on the people of Palestine continue, with a rising death toll that includes women and children,” said Ntshavheni.
“In the last two days, the world has sat helplessly and watched as intensifying airstrikes on Gaza and the West Bank have destroyed schools, health facilities, ambulances and civilian infrastructure and supposedly safe roads travelling to the south of Gaza.
“For these reasons, the Cabinet has decided to recall all South African diplomats from Tel Aviv for consultation.”
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naledi Pandor, yesterday said the remarks by the Israeli ambassador were akin to comments of the US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety a few months ago when he accused Pretoria of supplying arms to Russia.
She said ambassadors must conduct themselves properly and not make unsubstantiated claims in a host country. Pandor added that the decision to recall diplomats from Israel was not unusual.
“This is normal practice when there is a situation which is causing a great deal of harm and concern to our country. You would get your officials to come back to the national setting to provide you with a full briefing so that you can make a determination as to whether there is any potential for you to be of assistance and whether the continued relationship is actually able to be sustained in all terms,” she said.
SA Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) coalition co-ordinating committee member, Salim Vally, said the move to bring diplomats back home was a welcome first step.
“The reasons cited are very important -- the atrocities and genocide, particularly the bombing of schools, universities and hospitals … the impunity with which Israel has gone about doing this and how they have flouted numerous international human rights laws as well as humanitarian laws.
“Our position is that we need to expel the Israeli ambassador as well, he has been particularly problematic.
“We need to also take a leaf from our own history, the liberation movements called on the world to make apartheid South Africa a pariah state and that’s what we need to do with Israel.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) Cape Town co-ordinator, Usuf Chikte, echoed the sentiment that more needed to be done to stop the crimes against humanity.
“We call on the Parliament to declare Israel an apartheid state and the government to enact a mechanism at the UN.
“We demand an immediate ceasefire, free flow of adequate humanitarian aid and international protection for Palestinians,” said Chikte.
The Muslim Judicial Council, which has been demonstrating in the country against the siege of Palestine, also welcomed the government’s decision, and said it was long overdue.
“We hope the world wakes up to the genocide happening in Palestine,” it said.
The Israeli Embassy in South Africa on Monday said it had no further comment on the Cabinet’s decision.
“Outside of the Cabinet statement that was issued (yesterday), there has not been any further developments that the Embassy wishes to add in this regard.”
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) yesterday said it has called for an urgent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa for clarity on the position of the Cabinet, and its sentiments that the position of Belotsercovsky was becoming untenable.
SAJBD national chairperson Karen Milner said: “Severing ties would be a decision contrary to everything that the government claims it stands for, that is talking to both sides of the conflict.
“The only people who will stand to lose are South African citizens. Given the religious, cultural and familial ties of the Jewish community to Israel, it is alarming for the community to not have a representative of the only Jewish state in this country,” she said.
“What's worse is that this ill considered move does nothing to address the plight of the Palestinians, but merely appeases the Hamas supporting lobby.”
National chairperson of the SA Zionist Federation, Rowan Polovin, meanwhile said it was “disheartened” by the government's decision.
“It should also be noted that the ANC is grievously misplaced in chanting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, as they did at their rally outside the Israeli embassy recently.