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Johannesburg - Cosatu’s largest affiliate Nehawu will ask the upcoming ANC national conference to go ahead with downgrading the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office.

Nehawu Gauteng provincial chairperson Lulamile Sibanda told a crowd gathered outside the Department of International Relations and Cooperation head offices in Tshwane that delegates at the ruling party’s elective conference, who are also the union’s members, will push for the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv to be downgraded.

At the ANC policy conference a few months ago, delegates proposed two options including downgrading the embassy to send a strong message to Israel or a total shutdown of the embassy.

ANC delegates at the national conference will decide the fate of the country’s diplomatic ties with Israel.

The SA Jewish Board of Deputies opposes the plan and has described it as ill-advised.

Shortly after the policy conference, Nehawu held its own congress and demanded that the resolution must be implemented with immediate effect.

Sibanda said he was a delegate for next month’s conference. “We are going to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from South Africa,” he said.

Nehawu, the Young Communists League and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa) were expecting to handover their hard-hitting memorandum to International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane but Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba complained that she had instead sent a “clerk”.

The organisations are demanding that Nkoana-Mashabane must get rid of pro-Israel officials in her department who have been captured by the pro-Israel lobby.

They also want South Africa’s ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane recalled for contradicting the country’s foreign policy, a demand first made by Nkoana-Mashabane’s deputy Luwellyn Landers last year.

Last week, angry Palestinians marched to the office of South African representative in Ramallah complaining about the country’s betrayal of their struggle by some government officials.

Sibanda, who addressed the gathered crowd clad in red T-shirts on behalf of Nehawu general-secretary Zola Saphetha, who was unable to attend, said the union would ask for an urgent meeting with the ANC national executive committee’s subcommittee on international relations, which is chaired by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

According to Sibanda, Israel is a “brutal, genocidal apartheid state” that forces pregnant women to pass three security checkpoints on their way to giving birth.

He demanded that South Africa sever all ties with Israel.

“As long as Palestinians are not free, South Africans are also not free,” Sibanda said.

He said the department could not be housed at a building named after the ANC’s longest-serving president OR Tambo, who is often described as an internationalist.

The department has been given seven days to respond to the organisations’ demands.

Independent Foreign Service