MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
SA recalls diplomats in Tel Aviv over ‘untenable’ situation with Israeli ambassador
The South African government has decided to recall its diplomats in Tel Aviv for ‘consultation’ amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Cabinet is instructing South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) to take the “necessary measures within the diplomatic channels and protocols” to deal with the conduct of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, said Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on Monday.
Ntshavheni said the position of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, “is becoming very untenable”, after Cabinet noted his continued “disparaging remarks… about those who are opposing the atrocities and the genocide of the Israeli government”.
“This is despite the condemnation of the previous ambassadors of Israel to South Africa, who were clear that the acts of the Israeli government are a repeat of apartheid and no different to the apartheid antics,” she said.
The South African government had “decided to withdraw all its diplomats in Tel Aviv for consultation”.
Ntshavheni was speaking about the outcomes of a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, 1 November, during a press conference on Monday. The post-Cabinet media conference could not be held last week, due to the Springboks’ visit to the Union Buildings last Thursday, and the annual forum of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) at the weekend, she said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa’s links with Hamas and Iran pose new threat to Agoa as Republican senator weighs in
Though Ntshavheni’s remarks appeared to hint at stronger action, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor indicated that Belotserkovsky would be “demarched” – summoned by Pandor to be rebuked for his remarks.
Pandor said at a joint press conference with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Pretoria: “It was important that we should call the ambassador in and really he should desist from making the kinds of statements he has been making, without having had any discussion with any senior members of the government of South Africa.”
Without elaborating or specifying, she likened Belotserkovsky’s remarks to those made several months ago by US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety who said he had evidence that arms intended for Russia had been loaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town last December and also criticised the ANC for its stance on the US.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
On the decision to recall South Africa’s diplomats from Tel Aviv, Pandor said: “This is normal practice when there is a situation which is causing a great deal of harm and concern to a country. You would get your officials to come back to the national setting in order 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 able to be sustained in all terms.”
Pandor’s remarks seem to hint at the possibility of further downgrading relations with Israel. South Africa already took the first step towards that by recalling its ambassador in 2018 and not replacing him.
The recall of South Africa’s diplomats in Israel… is a serious signal that South Africa takes a very dim view on the situation that is currently permeating in that part of the world.
She continued that they “need to have this engagement with our officials because we are extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestine territory and we believe the nature of the response by Israel has become one of collective punishment which falls fully outside of the practice of international humanitarian and international human rights law.
“So we felt it important that we do signal the concern of South Africa while continuing to call for a comprehensive cessation [of hostilities] in Palestine.”
Earlier on Monday, Ntshavheni said Cabinet was “disappointed” by the refusal of the Israeli government to respect international law and the United Nations resolutions with impunity.
“The humanitarian corridors remain closed due to the continued attacks of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government, which is increasing the death toll to more than 9,500 [people].
“The air strikes in Gaza and in the West Bank continue to attack schools, hospitals, ambulances and civilians. As previously indicated, a genocide under the watch of the international community cannot be tolerated,” she said.
The recall of South Africa’s diplomats in Israel for consultation, Ntshavheni said, was a “serious signal that South Africa takes a very dim view on the situation that is currently permeating in that part of the world.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub
She said Cabinet will leave what is to be done to ambassador Belotserkovsky in Dirco’s hands.
“Our responsibility as Cabinet is to instruct them [Dirco] and say the conduct and the remarks of the ambassador are unacceptable. He is a guest in our country and he must conduct himself as a guest in our country,” said Ntshavheni.
More than 9,500 people have been killed and 24,000 wounded in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health authorities, since Hamas’s attack on southern Israel on 7 October, which killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians, while about 200 hostages were captured.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘There is no safe place in Gaza’ — humanitarian groups, hospitals overwhelmed as death toll nears 10,000
Cabinet has previously called on the Israeli government to stop the bombardment of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and residential buildings and to open the humanitarian corridor to allow the passage of aid, including food and medical supplies, into the besieged Gaza Strip.
The South African government also earlier offered to mediate in the conflict, and Ntshavheni said the country would engage with UN secretary-general António Guterres and countries in the Middle East, regarding the potential role it could play in terms of mediation and conflict resolution.
On Monday, Ntshavheni said: “Israel is threatening the stability of the global system, by its conduct against the Palestinian people. And the United States’ support of Israel is enabling Israel to threaten the global system and good governance.” DM