South Africa on Thursday announced that it was recalling its ambassador
to Israel for consultations over the Gaza flotilla incident earlier
South African Embassy spokesman Judika Tladi told The
Jerusalem Post that Ambassador Ismael Coovadia was being
recalled to Pretoria so that the government can get a “better
understanding” of what happened off the coast. He could not say when
Coovadia, who was leaving the country this weekend, would return to
Tladi added that Pretoria was not planning on expelling Israel’s ambassador to South Africa or severing ties.
“This will not affect ties between the two countries. We have no
intention of expelling the Israeli ambassador or cutting ties with
Israel,” Tladi said.
Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Dov Sergev-Steinberg was summoned
earlier this week to a meeting and given a demarche from Deputy
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Sue Van Der Merwe.
“This was done in order to register the Government’s strongest possible
protest to the Israeli Government, for its unjustified military action
and resultant loss of life inflicted by The State of Israel on a
flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian relief supplies to Gaza,”
Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said in a
statement to reporters on Thursday.
“The recall of Ambassador Ismael Coovadia for consultations is a way of
protesting and a way of showing our strongest condemnation of the
attack. This recent Israel aggression of attacking the aid flotilla
severely impacts on finding a lasting solution to the problems of the
region,” Ebrahim told journalists in Pretoria.
Some 3,500 protesters in Cape Town on Thursday called on South Africa
to sever ties with Israel, E-tv, which is based in the city, reported.
South Africa’s diplomatic recall comes several days after Turkey
recalled its ambassador to Israel. Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol
arrived in Ankara Thursday. Nicaragua cut ties with Israel earlier this
week and Ecuador announced Thursday that it was recalling its
ambassador as well.
Israel expressed its regret and disappointment at the South African move.
“Those who criticize Israel would be better advised to turn their
criticism against the terror-supporting rioters from the flotilla, who
have nothing to do with humaneness,” spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a
Relations between Israel and South Africa are for all intents and
purposes in a “freeze,” one diplomatic official said Thursday.
South Africa, a close trading partner with Iran, votes against Israel in almost every possible international forum.
“We try to strengthen ties and South Africa tries to break them. They are very much like Turkey now,” the official said.
Pretoria also joined the many in the international community calling for the naval blockade of Gaza to be immediately lifted.
“This siege, which has brought untold hardships to the ordinary people
of Gaza and made their lives nightmarish, is unconscionable and
unsustainable,” said Ebrahim.
Ebrahim also spoke of the government’s commitment to contributing
towards peace in the region and ensuring an independent and viable
“A long-term solution to the region can only be achieved through
negotiation. What is needed is the creation of a climate of mutual
trust and peace,” he said.
A low point in relations with South Africa was reached during Operation
Cast Lead, when then-South African deputy minister of foreign affairs
Fatima Hajaig unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade against Israel.
“In fact, no matter which government comes into power, whether
Republican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush, the
control of America, just like the control of most Western countries is
in the hands of Jewish money, and if Jewish money controls their
country, you cannot expect anything else,” Hajaig was recorded as
saying, to thunderous applause, at a pro-Palestinian rally in the
Lenasia township outside of Johannesburg in January 2009.
South Africa had one citizen on board the flotilla. Gadija Davids, a
journalist with Radio 786 in Cape Town, was aboard the Mavi
Marmara , on which the deadly raid that killed nine activists
Radio 786 is a community radio station, whose license holder is the
Islamic Unity Convention, The Mail and Guardian
reported. The journalist was not hurt and is expected back in
South Africa Friday.
In a statement released Thursday, the South African Jewish leadership
said that while it is saddened over the deaths and injuries incurred
during the Gaza flotilla incident, it nevertheless saw the South
African government’s decision to temporarily recall its ambassador in
response as “premature and inappropriate.”
“The relevant facts of the incident are not yet fully known; they will
become so only after the investigation into its causes has completed
its work and reported its findings to the international community,” the
South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies said.
“In this regard, the leadership expresses its profound disappointment
at the decision, as it goes against the South African way of engaging
in dialogue and not jumping to conclusions before all the facts are
known. The Jewish leadership regrets that South Africa is thus far the
only country, aside from Turkey, to have taken so radical and
disproportionate a step, despite not being directly involved in the
matter,” the statement said.