South Africa has downgraded its relations with Israel, turning its diplomatic mission into a liaison office and not sending a new ambassador to Tel Aviv.
In a recent address to the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu announced that “stage one has been completed” in lowering ties with the Israeli regime.
South Africa, she said, had demoted its Tel Aviv embassy to a liaison office with limited functionality and would not replace its envoy to Israel, who was recalled last May in protest at Israel’s deadly crackdown on Gaza anti-occupation protests.
“Our Ambassador is back in South Africa and we will not be replacing him,” Sisulu said at her speech, which was published on her office’s website on Friday.
“Our liaison office in Tel Aviv will have no political mandate, no trade mandate and no development cooperation mandate. It will not be responsible for trade and commercial activities. The focus of the Liaison Office would be on consular [services] and the facilitation of people-to-people relations,” she added.
In December 2017, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party decided to downgrade the country’s mission in Tel Aviv in an expression of “practical support” for the oppressed Palestinian people, warning Israel that it should pay the price for its “human rights abuses and violations of international law.”
Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stressed his government’s resolve to go ahead with ANC’s decision.
Elsewhere in her address, Sisulu said that South Africa’s position on Israel had “very clearly” been expressed by the ruling party.
She further criticized the US for vetoing any resolution against Israel at the United Nations Security Council.
Palestinian Ambassador to South Africa Hashem Dajani welcomed South Africa’s anti-Israel move.
South Africa, he said, “represents values of dignity, freedom and justice, and is fully aware of the importance of its pioneering role in international solidarity with the oppressed people of the world, especially the Palestinian people.”
Basem Naim, spokesman for the Gaza-based Hamas resistance movement, also thanked South Africa for the “steps it has taken to express its anger at the apartheid policy of the Israeli occupation state.”
The Israeli foreign ministry, however, reacted to South Africa’s decision only by saying that “We heard this and are examining the implications.”
Meanwhile, South African online newspaper Daily Maverick reported that the second phase of the process to downgrade relations with Tel Aviv would likely involve removing the Israeli ambassador to South Africa from his position.
South Africa established close ties with the Israeli regime during the apartheid era, but after the collapse of the discriminatory system, the African country began to lean towards Palestine.
Most South Africans have historically supported the Palestinians due to similarities between the Israeli occupation and South Africa’s apartheid rule.