SA to remove diplomats, but Israeli ambassador remains
The South African cabinet has taken the radical decision to bring back its diplomats in Israel, which will effectively shut down its embassy in Tel Aviv. International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Dr Naledi Pandor is using every platform to lambaste Israel and accuse it of genocide and war crimes. Barely a half-hearted mention is made about Hamas releasing the 240 hostages it captured on 7 October.
In spite of two of those hostages confirmed as being born in South Africa, her department has done nothing to secure their release. Calls for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador are mounting at the highest level. The Jewish community feels embattled and betrayed.
“Once again, Minister Pandor and the government is totally out of line with its dual mandate to protect South African citizens and be a peacemaker,” South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) Vice-President Zev Krengel said this week. “If we want to make peace, we have to talk to all sides, and the decision to recall the diplomats is ridiculous. You can’t cut us off like that. This is an absolutely horrible gesture.
“They [the government] has done nothing to get the hostages released, nothing to get people back here. But the minister phones Hamas and runs off to Iran. She talks about a two-state solution, but it always turns into a diatribe against Israel. It just shows how low the government has sunk. This is everything a government shouldn’t be. It’s absolutely outrageous. There’s no end to its hatred for the Jewish state. With no embassy, what will happen to South Africans who get sick in Israel or lose their passports?”
His reaction, much the same as the rest of the community, arose in the light of cabinet announcing on Monday, 6 November, that South Africa would recall all its diplomats from its embassy in Israel “for consultation”. Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said, “The position of the ambassador of Israel in South Africa is becoming very untenable. Cabinet has instructed Dirco to take necessary measures within the diplomatic challenges and protocols to deal with the conduct of the ambassador of Israel to South Africa.” She also called Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank a “genocide” that was foreshadowing “another Holocaust” that couldn’t be tolerated.
South Africa’s government opposes Israel’s military operations in Gaza, undertaken in retaliation for the heinous attack by Hamas on 7 October that left 1 400 dead in Israel and 240 people taken hostage into Gaza.
Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotsercovsky, has confirmed to the SA Jewish Report that he has received no communication at all from Dirco, and that he’s not going anywhere. He also doesn’t know which of his remarks specifically have caused such offence.
In a post on X, Israel foreign affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat said, “The ministry of foreign affairs fully supports the Israeli ambassador in South Africa, who represents the position of the Israeli government and the people of Israel while Israel is fighting a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for its destruction. The South African government’s decision to recall its diplomatic staff is a victory for the Hamas terrorist organisation and rewards it for the massacre it carried out on 7 October.”
An online statement, purportedly by Hamas, said, “We welcome the position of the South African government, which recalled its ambassador to the criminal Zionist entity following its continued barbaric aggression against our people, children and women in the Gaza Strip. We call on South Africa to sever all ties with this fascist entity that is committing a genocidal war in Gaza, in victory for the right of peoples to self-determination and for the history of the struggle of South Africa, which suffered from colonialism and racism.”
Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, told the SA Jewish Report, “Minister Pandor continuously and exclusively uses her international platform to single out the Jewish state for unique sanction and discrimination. She might as well be retitled South Africa’s minister of Palestinian affairs, as that seems to be the length and breadth of her focus in foreign affairs. She speed-dialled the Hamas leadership to express support and solidarity almost immediately after it carried out its barbaric rampage, and then unconvincingly tried to walk back her actions. Dirco and the ANC [African National Congress] government pledge solidarity with the foreign hostage captors but abandon their South African captives.
“Pandor consistently diverts and deflects attention away from South Africa’s numerous domestic and international failures, including its support for Russia in its war with Ukraine, in order to bash Israel,” Polovin said. “President Cyril Ramaphosa has given his ministers free rein to professionalise their personal vendettas that undermine our country’s long-term interests and threaten our country’s economy and international standing with other democracies. Ramaphosa is the president of all South Africans. Likewise, Pandor isn’t just an ANC minister for an anti-West aligned foreign affairs department, but a minister for all South Africa, whose department is supposed to represent the interests of all in this country. The actions of our government discriminates against South African Jewry, who have religious, spiritual, cultural, and historic ties to Israel and are also equal citizens of this country with the constitutional rights and freedoms of religion and belief afforded to everyone else.”
Professor Karen Milner, the national chairperson of the SAJBD, told the SA Jewish Report, “Given the religious, cultural, and familial ties of the Jewish community to Israel, it would be alarming for the community not to have a representative of the only Jewish state in this country. What’s worse is that such a move would do nothing to address the plight of the Palestinians, but merely appease the Hamas-supporting lobby. At this stage, the government has stated it’s ‘acting against’ the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, and the SAJBD has asked for a meeting with the president to clarify what that means.”
A statement issued by the SAJBD on 7 November said, “Dirco’s most recent display of support for Hamas has been to threaten action against the Israeli ambassador in South Africa on the claimed grounds of him being ‘undiplomatic’. This is the same government department that has consistently refused to engage with the ambassador, even in the immediate aftermath of the horrors of 7 October. It’s the same Dirco that instead reached out to the perpetrators of those atrocities.” The Board has launched a Promotion of Access to Information (PAIA) application to determine what Pandor actually said to Hamas during her phone call.
The statement continues, “The SAJBD calls on the South African government urgently to reconsider its ill-considered, immoral, and ultimately self-defeating stance on the conflict in the Middle East and instead align itself with other members of the international community who are doing whatever they can to help bring peace to the region.”
In Parliament on Tuesday, 7 November, Pandor called for the International Criminal Court to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes. She also put forward a seven-point peace plan for ending the war in Gaza, endorsed by the Palestinian embassy. These were: a call for an immediate ceasefire; humanitarian corridors; the exercise of restraint; the release of civilian hostages; a nuclear-weapon-free zone; dialogue led by Palestinians and Israelis; and a United Nations rapid deployment force.
Pressure on the Israeli ambassador to South Africa is set to intensify in the days and weeks to come. And the war of words is far from over.