PRETORIA/RAMAT GAN (The Thursday Times) — The South African government has initiated the recall of its diplomatic staff from Israel amid ongoing military actions in the Gaza Strip that have resulted in substantial Palestinian casualties. Officials in Pretoria have indicated that the Israeli ambassador’s position is increasingly precarious following his defense of his nation’s policies, which South Africa equates with apartheid.
In a recent briefing, Minister Khumbudzo Ntshaveni expressed the cabinet’s dissatisfaction with Israel’s noncompliance with international law and UN resolutions, particularly after the UN General Assembly’s call for a ceasefire went unheeded. The South African government has condemned the continued violence and the blockade of humanitarian access to Gaza.
Citing the historical weight of genocide and holocaust, Ntshaveni explained the decision to withdraw South African diplomats for consultations, a move echoing the country’s 2018 action to remove its ambassador after the ANC called for a response to Israel’s settlement expansions.
Ntshaveni criticised Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky for derogatory comments about critics of Israel’s actions, contrasting his stance with that of former Israeli ambassadors who have acknowledged similarities between Israel’s conduct and apartheid practices.
Further, Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, at an engagement with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, suggested that Belotsercovsky should exercise restraint in his public statements, akin to expectations from all diplomats in South Africa. Pandor emphasised the grave concern over the civilian toll in Palestinian territories and declared the Israeli military response as collective punishment, breaching international norms.
Pandor also noted that recalling diplomats for discussions is a standard response to situations that inflict significant distress and harm upon a nation.
She expressed profound concern over the ongoing fatalities among minors and non-combatants in Palestinian areas, characterising Israel’s actions as collective punishment, stating “we are, as you would be aware, extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territories and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment, which falls fully outside of the practice of international humanitarian and international human rights law.” She emphasised that such actions deviate from accepted international humanitarian norms and the principles of human rights law.
The situation remains tense as South Africa takes diplomatic steps to address what it perceives as aggressive and unlawful actions by Israel in the conflict with Palestine.