MIDDLE EAST CRISIS
Israel recalls its SA ambassador ahead of parliamentary vote on EFF motion to shut embassy in Pretoria
Israel has recalled Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky ‘for consultations’ as Parliament was expected to vote on Tuesday on whether to close the Israeli embassy in South Africa. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa was due to lead a BRICS discussion on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Israel has recalled its ambassador to South Africa after strong criticism by Pretoria and the ANC of Israel’s continuing military assault on Gaza.
The Israeli government has recalled Ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky “for consultations” following the “latest statements from South Africa”, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said on Monday in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
He did not specify the statements, but the SA government and ANC have been growing increasingly critical of Israel as the war in Gaza unfolds and the death toll mounts.
Pretoria recently announced that it was recalling all of its diplomats from its embassy in Tel Aviv and it issued a démarche — a very stern form of diplomatic rebuke — to Belotserkovsky. It has also referred Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the International Criminal Court.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA recalls diplomats in Tel Aviv over ‘untenable’ situation with Israeli ambassador
Israel’s decision on Monday to recall Belotserkovsky came a day before Parliament was expected to vote on an EFF motion calling upon “the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel”.
Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten has reported that while the ANC supported the motion in principle, the ruling party and the government were unlikely to support it because of the practical implications — including the fact that breaking diplomatic relations with Israel would mean that South Africa would no longer be able to maintain its embassy to Palestine in Jerusalem.
It seemed likely that the ANC would settle for a compromise of expelling Belotserkovsky but not cutting relations with Israel. Now it seems Israel has pre-empted that move by recalling the ambassador.
Read more in Daily Maverick: All for Gaza ceasefire, but EFF motion to cut ties with Israel may be a step too far for ANC
The South African Zionist Federation condemned “South Africa’s increasingly antagonistic and discriminatory position against the world’s only Jewish State” which it said had led to Israel’s decision to recall Belotserkovsky.
Africa4Palestine, a South African NGO, welcomed the decision to recall Belotserkovsky ahead of the vote in Parliament.
“South Africa now has no ambassador in Israel, and Israel has no ambassador in South Africa,” it said.
It said Israel was being isolated, in a similar fashion to South Africa’s apartheid government, which it described as a crucial step towards holding the country accountable. “People and countries across the globe are making it clear: no normal relations with an abnormal state.”
Test for BRICS
Meanwhile, the crisis in the Middle East could present the BRICS bloc with an important test of unity as its leaders gather on Tuesday for a virtual summit hosted by BRICS chairperson President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
He will be joined by most of the leaders of the other BRICS member states, Brazil, Russia, India and China, as well as the six countries that were admitted to BRICS at its summit in Johannesburg in August: Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will also participate in the virtual meeting, at the end of which leaders are expected to adopt a joint statement on the situation in the Middle East with particular reference to Gaza, the South African Presidency announced.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to participate, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not, South African officials have confirmed, and will instead be represented by Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Although the official explanation is a scheduling problem, there is a suspicion that the real reason could be India’s outlier position on the Middle East conflict.
India is the only BRICS member which abstained from the UN General Assembly resolution on 26 October calling for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas and for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza.
India explained that it did not support the resolution because it failed to condemn Hamas for its 7 October attack on Israel, in which it killed more than 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took about 240 hostages. In retaliation, Israel launched an attack on Hamas in Gaza which by Monday had killed about 13,000 people, also mostly civilians.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
Last week, Modi told the virtual Voice of Global South Summit that “India has condemned the dastardly terror attack on Israel on October 7”. He added that India urged a “restrained response along with dialogue and diplomacy” from Israel. “We strongly condemn the death of civilians in the Israel-Hamas conflict,” Modi said.
Five of the six new BRICS candidate countries which will attend Ramaphosa’s virtual summit on Tuesday also supported the UN General Assembly ceasefire resolution, but Ethiopia, like India, abstained.
Iran openly provides military and financial support to Hamas and has publicly welcomed its attack on Israel, so it would be the least likely participant in Ramaphosa’s meeting to agree to any criticism of Hamas in the joint statement which the 11 participating leaders are scheduled to issue at the end of their meeting.
Official sources have confirmed that Argentine President Alberto Fernández will participate in the virtual summit though he is about to leave office and it is uncertain whether his successor, Javier Milei, will take up the invitation for Argentina to join BRICS.
Milei, who has just been elected, is a right-wing, anti-government populist in the Donald Trump mould and stated during his election campaign that he was opposed to Argentina joining BRICS.
In a statement on the recall of Belotserkovsky, South African Zionist Federation chairperson Rowan Polovin said: “The ANC’s prejudicial posturing on this conflict will have profound implications for our country, as well as Jewish and Christian South Africans and others with religious and spiritual ties to Israel.”
He added that the government’s “one-sided and irresponsible rhetoric” and refusal to engage in dialogue with Israel had prevented SA from playing any meaningful role in ending the current war or in any future peace efforts.
“All it has achieved is [to] deepen the divisions in South Africa, undermine our country’s international standing and economic interests, and harm the constitutional rights of our citizens.
“We hope this is a temporary recall and that diplomacy can continue,” Polovin said. DM
Rowan Polovin is Daily Maverick’s Head of Technology. His views expressed here are reflective of his work with the South African Zionist Federation.