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National Assembly votes to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut embassy, but it’s symbolic until government acts

National Assembly votes to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut embassy, but it’s symbolic until government acts
Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, a member of NFP, embraces EFF member Nazier Paulsen after the vote calling on the government to close the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and cut diplomatic ties was carried in the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

With a vote of 248 for and 91 against, the amended EFF motion calling on the government to close the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and cut diplomatic ties was carried in the National Assembly on Tuesday.

Crucial to the vote was that the governing ANC got the amendment it had indicted in Thursday’s often tense debate as necessary for its support. But it was made clear in the House this was not a binding resolution, but a “politically persuasive” one.

Tabled by ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina, and publicly formally agreed to by EFF leader Julius Malema, this amendment introduced the governing party’s wish for conditionalities – a ceasefire and a lasting United Nations-facilitated peace.

national assembly israel vote

ANC Chief Whip Pemmy Majodina addresses the National Assembly on 21 November 2023. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

The amended resolution of the House on Tuesday called “upon the government to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel until a ceasefire is agreed and Israel commits to binding UN-facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just, sustainable and lasting peace”.

Shouts of “Free Palestine” and “Free Palestine, from the river to the sea” erupted from the ANC and EFF benches following the vote in which the two parties were also supported by the one and two-seaters, al Jama-ah, the National Freedom Party, the African Transformation Movement and the Pan-Africanist Congress.

But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

As presiding officer and House chairperson Cedric Frolick put it in explaining the House’s competency to deal with this matter, “Such a resolution will be politically persuasive rather than instructive.”

This effectively means the government may well decide to simply note but not act on this National Assembly resolution. Or decide not to even note.

While the parliamentary vote to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut its embassy in Pretoria echoes the stance of the ANC’s Luthuli House, it contradicts International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor’s statements in Parliament. 

“… (B)reaking off diplomatic relations with Israel will be counterproductive as it will also affect our Representative Office in Ramallah, Palestine, and by implication weaken the meaningful role that South Africa can play in the Palestinian cause,” Pandor said in Monday’s parliamentary reply to the IFP.

national assembly israel

Members of Parliament at the National Assembly in Cape Town on 21 November 2023 assemble for the vote calling on the government to close the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and cut diplomatic ties. (Photo: Ziyanda Duda)

“The government of South Africa will be considering the various calls made to further downgrade its diplomatic relations with Israel given the flagrant breaches of international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide…”

In a statement to the House on 7 November, Pandor outlined necessary steps, including an “immediate comprehensive ceasefire”, the full opening of humanitarian corridors so aid and basic services can reach those in need, the release of all civilian hostages and a United Nations rapid deployment force to monitor the ceasefire and to protect civilians. 

In addition, all parties were urged to exercise restraint from fuelling the conflict, help establish a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East zone, and resume a “comprehensive dialogue” between Palestine and Israel.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pandor calls for immediate ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Israel’s ‘collective punishment on all Palestinians’

Such steps were also outlined by President Cyril Ramaphosa who chaired Tuesday’s extraordinary BRICS meeting on the Israel-Gaza war, according to a statement from the Presidency.

national assembly israel vote

A protester in support of Palestine outside Parliament in Cape Town on 21 November 2023. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

Pretoria’s determined stance on Israel committing war crimes and genocide in Gaza was evident when South Africa joined several countries to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In a parliamentary reply on Monday to the EFF on South African-Palestine solidarity, Pandor said, “South Africa and Palestine are currently working on formulating practical strategies towards taking up the Palestinian cause to the ICC and ICJ (International Court of Justice) to declare Israel as an apartheid state…”

The flurry of parliamentary questions signals the centrality in South African political public life of the Israel-Gaza war following the 7 October killing of around 1,200 civilians by Hamas and the kidnapping of more than 200 people from Israel into Gaza, where they are being held hostage.

Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which has killed more than 13,000 residents – many of them children – alongside orders to evacuate Gaza City to the south and now west, has been condemned internationally, as well as by various United Nations agencies and Secretary-General António Guterres

As Ramaphosa chaired the BRICS meeting, opposition parties in the House cautioned against isolating South Africa by cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

“It will have consequences for the standing of South Africa in the international world,” said FF+ chief whip Corné Mulder.

national assembly israel vote

Protesters outside Parliament in Cape Town on 21 November write down the names of people who have lost their lives in Gaza. (Photo: Ziyanda Duba)

“The ANC has now followed the EFF. We will vote against this motion. You have made a mistake.”

DA MP and international relations spokesperson Emma Powell described the motion as “counterintuitive” to wanting a stake in negotiating a solution to the conflict.

“The ANC is scoring an own goal here. It’s a firm no from us. We need to have a stake in negotiating a peace…”

IFP chief whip Narend Singh also emphasised that South Africa “should not exclude ourselves from a peace process”.

But the opposition NFP and Al Jama-ah took a different line. 

While NFP MP Shaik Emam welcomed the “revolutionary” decision, Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks said, “There is no place for Israel in South Africa. Every trace of Israel must be wiped off our land.”

Should Pretoria decide to heed the National Assembly resolution, the ramifications could include the loss of diplomatic representation in Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

This could affect the 120 South Africans who, since 7 October, have contacted SA missions in Israel and Palestine as “(d)istressed South African nationals in Gaza… on the United Nations (UN) rescue list and ready to be moved out of Gaza when the opportunity arises”, according to another parliamentary reply from Pandor.

The “politically persuasive” National Assembly resolution to cut diplomatic ties with Israel and shut that country’s Pretoria embassy is done and dusted. 

What happens next will reflect factional battles in the ANC – and how government wants to position itself on this as well as other broader global geopolitical issues. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dr Know says:

    How stupid is this. Another own goal for SA with the EFF and their Pep stores dishcloth headdresses giggling in the corner having manipulated the gullible yet again.

    • Dennis Bailey says:

      Agreed but it cos Cyril’s teachers need to be involved in the decolonisation of eduction after 30 years of being ignored. Really the anc hasn’t a brain call left. Too much Glen Fiddick!

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    Guess which party will have egg on their faces at the end of all of this. About time our politicians realised their insignificance in world affairs.

  • Iam Fedup says:

    It’s a disgrace and the shortsighted fools in parliament cannot see the dire consequences that will follow. I’m outraged and they don’t speak in my name or the millions of South Africans who care about peace. Hang your heads in shame.

  • Alfreda Frantzen says:

    What else can one expect from the “comrades” who supported Robert Mugabe and his thugs.

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Cool, cool, and when do we cut ties with Russia?

    • Alan Paterson says:

      And apologizes for letting Al Bashir off the ICC hook. And berates China for the Uyghers, And the Saudi airstrikes that killed thousands of Yemeni Muslims. And Al Assad in Syria. And Islamic State for simply existing. Indeed the hypocrisy is quite breathtaking.

  • Mich Vaughan says:

    It is evident that the majority of the members of parliament are so misguided in their victim consciousness revolutionary thinking and so full of hatred for a people that have risen and educated themselves. Shame on you and your deep seated indoctrination . Genocide, you say? Look at the growth of the Palestinian population in Gaza and compare that to the population growth in Israel. But then again… why bother explaining to mind so blind and bitter

  • David Katz says:

    What – No motion to shut the Russian embassy.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    This should speed up our trip down the drain nicely. The squealing of the little piggies when AGOA and a bunch of direct investments are pulled will be deafening.

  • andrew farrer says:

    Firstly, I believe netanyahu’s war on Gaza’n civilians is wrong. Yes, by all means go after hamas and exterminate every one of their leaders, but not at the expense of innocent civilians. This move was exactly what hamas wanted and has drawn the reaction they desired from idiot organisations like anc/ eff. A beeter move would have been to first give the UN/ Arab nations an ultimatum to take control of Gaza and install a peace keeping force, gauranteeing Israel’s security. But this (SA parli vote) just shows the eff, anc & tin pot 1 seat parties are just anti Jew! No call for hamas to stop launching missiles at Israeli CIVILIAN targets? No call for hamas to remove from their constitution the call for the genocide of all Jews in Israel? Nothing said or done about the ongoing genocide in Dafur/ Yemen/ Syria???? NO only against the Jews.

    • Vusi Dladla says:

      It’s sad that the government didn’t do this sooner. They should have done this when Israel continued to extend occupied territories. They should have taken action when in 2014 , after a visit to the Holy Land, the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town Brislin said: “I think that one of the greatest tragedies of Gaza is that yes, it is a massive prison with high walls and there is only one entrance that is being used into Israel…(…) people feel themselves closed in and that is bad; people don’t have access to resources but more fundamentally bad is that they are being treated as lesser people; there is an exercise of power, it’s an exercise of dominance and these people are in a way being made less than human, less than what God intended them to be…” And early this year the local Anglican Church epressed similar sentiments.

      • Middle aged Mike says:

        Omar al-Bashir?

      • robby 77 says:

        There are two entrances into Gaza. Egypt. And I think they dislike the people of Gaza even more. You are parroting falsehoods. So as for the rest of your comment….

      • Mich Vaughan says:

        My heart goes out to the indoctrinated brainwashed children and mothers of Palestine. Millions of dollars and pounds funded to Palestine forever. What did they do to uplift themselves? Allow Hamas and corrupt Palestinian officials squander it and build tunnels. So now here Palestine sits. Run by an extreme Islamic religious bunch of terrorists. What did you think was going to happen. If you think that this is a Hamas Israeli issue you should wake up. This is entirely an Iran West issue and you my dear will be next. Far as I can see you also are in the West and we will all be next. Wake up!

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      “Firstly, I believe netanyahu’s war on Gaza’n civilians is wrong. Yes, by all means go after hamas and exterminate every one of their leaders, but not at the expense of innocent civilians.”

      There are no wars in history where civilians aren’t killed. That just isn’t a thing. Conducting military operations in urban areas where the enemy is deliberately located in and amongst the civilian population without a large number of civilian casualties is impossible.

  • Arnold Muscat says:

    Expect nothing less and watch the Rands slide to new higher lows

  • Brian Doyle says:

    This is a hypocritical decision, and if the ANC government go through with it, they should also close the Russian Embassy. Again this is done as a populist move and not a rational one. Dialogue should always be open between countries. Hopefully when the ANC government is removed, stupid decisions such as this are reversed.

  • Dietmar Horn says:

    ANC and EFF, parties that put on a puppet show in parliament – what can be expected from a government that is involved as puppets?

  • Yaku de Beer says:

    What is amazing is that a ceasefire has been agreed upon moments after we put pressure on Israel! Well done parly for taking the moral high road.

    The rest of the world should take note on the power of applying external pressure for the benifit of negotiating peace. If the rest of the world follows suit and forces Israel to the negotiation table, there can be lasting peace in the middle east.

    South Africans can rightly be proud of themselves.

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      I hope you are not serious. I doubt whether Israel or Hamas or the USA took any notice of SA’s intention to close the Israeli embassy here and it is definietly not pressure from SA that has brought about a tentative cease fire. More like pressure from the UN and the USA.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      No one who is anyone could care less what south africa has to say on any issue least of all ones relating to ‘the moral high ground’. Omar al-Bashir, ring a bell? Which part of the moral topography were we occupying when we entertained and then sent him home?

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      Anyone who believes that this South African government could put pressure on Israel or even influence world politics also believes that cotton comes from cotton sheep, should this be spread on social media.

    • Malcolm Mitchell says:

      If you really believe this you must be living in cloud cuckoo land. I recommend you take a course in political science 101 to bring you up to date on the political process . Your answer is so absurd thinking that you must be joking.

    • Yaku de Beer says:

      Our politicians negotiated a peaceful transfer of power from an autocratic state to a democratic one. This isn’t something that happens all the time, it was a mirracle. Myanmar touched freedom, but it all came crashing down less than two years after their election, not many countries can hold a candle to us.

      So for those who think South Africa doesn’t have anything to offer, or that we don’t have any influence when it comes to facilitating peacefull negotiations, you are misinformed. Peace in Ireland is a direct result of the hard work by politicians like Ramaphosa, and Israelis listened when Tutu spoke to them about peace with Palestine. South Africa is the best placed to influence peaceful negotiations, we lead by example.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      South African people are the best in the world, and our sense of humour is notorious (Trevor Noah, Jacob Zuma, etc.). Hilarious to hear that anyone thinks that South Africa featured in a single word discussed about the hostage release deal and Israel’s agreement to pause (there’s no ceasefire), nor let alone was anywhere near the negotiation table.

  • Maurice Brett says:

    Yet we have not heard a peep about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We know whose side they are on.

  • Ken Shai says:

    Many more countries in Africa will cut diplomatic relations with Israel after SA move. It is good to lead by example, bravo, Cyril!

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      The Government and not only has a big handicap, whenever they make a decision, they are only thinking of now and at the most of “tomorrow”. The future results/damages of their decisions are never considered.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Ken – you using chip technology in your phone or laptop to sign on here? Made in Israel perhaps?

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    The National Assembly is the epitome of the parable of the organ grinder’s monkey. In the parable, the monkey is removed from the jungle, dressed in jewellery and clothes, then made to dance to the organ grinder’s music. When the monkey sees that the crowds clap and cheer him on, he believes he is the power behind the show, little realising that he is the one dancing to the organ grinder’s tunes.

    The only question that matters is: who is their organ grinder? [… and no lewd responses, please]

  • Vincent Britz says:

    And there you have it! The corrupt ANC government says no to the war in Gaza but yes to the war in Ukraine, and the EFF agree?? Now am 150% guaranteed that the ANC & EFF are the dumbest politicians in the world!! But then again if you look at the state of our educational system then it’s understandable that we are been lead by a bunch of idiots for the last 30 years!!! Nevermind all the damage, looting and corruption they have already done to this country!! If we don’t stand up and vote the ANC out of government we are doomed to a life of pure hell!!!

  • Vusi Dladla says:


    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      Astonishing isn’t it? But would you consider terminating diplomatic relations with Russia for the same reasons – a genocidal attack on Ukraine?

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Free the couscous!

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    So is the Russian embassy also to be closed, or does this not fit the ANC’s agenda

  • ashrose.cloete says:

    Am thankful and blessed by the excellent journalism displayed by DM

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