Embassy closure leaves SA olim high and dry
When South Africa recalled its diplomats in Israel as a way of censuring the Jewish state in November 2023, it effectively closed the South African embassy in Ramat Gan, which was a liaison office.
Now, almost three months later, that decision has long-term implications for people in Israel and around the world. However, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) has managed to arrange consular support. “The Department of International Relations and Cooperation [Dirco] has earmarked Sean Casale to address the consular issues of South African citizens in Israel, and we have been asked to work with him in resolving these matters,” says SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn.
“He has advised me that he has been in touch with the home affairs department, and there are 60 documents ready for distribution to community members. They are working to arrange for them to be delivered to the applicants. Furthermore, I have provided him with the details of South Africans needing to apply for documents so that he can assist them. We’ll continue to engage with Dirco to ensure that community members requiring consular support are helped.”
“There’s a mother separated from her two young children indefinitely. It’s horrific,” says Kim Kur, who supports South Africans with travel challenges. “I get loads of people reaching out asking how to register their children and apply for a new passport,” says Kur, whose Facebook group, Community Circle SA, supports thousands of South Africans all over the world.
“I have several who hold only South African citizenship and whose need to return to South Africa is urgent, but they have no embassy to issue an emergency travel certificate to them, short of visiting Ramallah, which holds its own concerns. We have South Africans who entered on their other passport and have overstayed, and now have five-year bans in place with no embassy nearby to assist them.”
Then there’s the question of if and how South African olim will be able to vote in South Africa’s upcoming national elections. “Sudan, Israel, and Ukraine all fall into the category in which the offices are considered by the IEC [Electoral Commission of South Africa] to be temporarily closed as a result of security concerns. But citizens can register to vote as a final decision about the availability of voting stations hasn’t been made yet,” says Kur. “I’ve also been liaising directly with the IEC’s general manager for electoral matters regarding what those in Israel should do.
“No-one can say for sure that the IEC will have a voting station in Israel,” she says. “What we know for sure is that South Africans 16 and up can register online to vote at the embassy. This is essential, as it at least keeps the possibility open. If they don’t register, then once the election date is announced, and if a voting station is opened in Israel, they’ll lose that opportunity to make their mark and create much-needed change for everyone in South Africa and, dare I say, in Israel. This is a rare example of a case in which voting isn’t just to help fellow South Africans you left behind, but also to stop the ruling party from its destructive anti-Israel propaganda. We have a collective duty [to do so].
“The IEC must work through Dirco,” says Kur. “Only if the government allows a voting station in Israel will it happen. But Dirco isn’t 100% against the idea, so must be given the opportunity to do the right thing and give our citizens abroad their constitutional right to vote.
“So many South Africans in Israel are understandably disheartened by South Africa’s propaganda against Israel. They speak of renouncing citizenship,” says Kur. “But what’s essential is that they retain their constitutional right to their citizenship. It’s South Africa’s duty to provide a way to ensure that they get consular services, and there are those at Dirco trying to find a way to make this happen.”
Kur says she takes as many cases as she can directly to Dirco. “I get understanding from those I raise concerns with, but not always assistance. Their hands are often tied because of the government’s decision.
“My plea is that South Africans with unregistered children prioritise registering their children at the nearest mission or in South Africa,” says Kur. “Note that only certain home affairs offices can simulate registration of births abroad. We need to ensure that should South Africa choose to remove the 90-day visa exemption from Israeli passport holders, families aren’t locked out of South Africa because of their child being denied access.”
South African olah Skye Danziger is fearful of this exact possibility. “I can’t register my baby’s birth or get her a passport. Due to political issues, I’m worried that at some stage, travel to South Africa will be a challenge with an Israeli passport. So, we’ll have to go to Cyprus to register her birth and apply for her passport. I don’t want to be in the situation where we urgently need to get to South Africa but can’t.”
Asked if she has received any support, Danziger says, “No. In December, when we were visiting South Africa, passport control told us that we must register her [the baby]. We told them we didn’t have an embassy. They said, do it while you’re here, but we didn’t have time. I’m not sure about the legalities, but I’m worried about the future relationship between Israel and South Africa, and our family is still there.
“I’m sure there are many people in my shoes,” she says. “Most that I’ve spoken to say they don’t intend to get South African passports for their babies anyway, so they don’t care. While I agree on the one hand, I’m also worried about the long-term implications.”
Telfed Chief Executive Dorron Kline says, “South African olim need to renew their South African passports and South African potential olim need their fingerprints taken for police clearance certificates to make aliya. The consulate is also the source for ordering other essential documents required for aliya. Our community in Israel now must request these services from South Africa via private service providers. It increases the costs tremendously.
“The SAJBD has been working closely with South Africans affected by the closure of the embassy in Israel,” says Kahn. “We have a list of individuals who have been impacted by this action. Since November last year, I have been engaging with DIRCO to find a suitable accommodation for them.
“Some of the cases we were able to resolve relatively easily, however others are more complicated,” she says. “There has been a huge amount of bureaucracy in finalising the solution.”
- Anyone in Israel requiring consular services can email Sean Casale on email@example.com, copying in firstname.lastname@example.org.