A protester and member of South Africa's ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), carries a placard outside the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.
(photo credit: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS)
South African Jewry reacted with shock and dismay following the government’s decision to recall its ambassador from Israel in response to Monday’s violence on the Gaza border.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies issued a statement together with the South African Zionist Federation in response to the recall.
“The South African government’s decision to withdraw the South African ambassador from Israel is outrageous and displays gross double-standards against the Jewish state,” the organizations said. “While we, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognize that Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens. Israel is facing a real danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.”
The two organizations emphasized that “by withdrawing its ambassador, South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely needed resolution to the conflict.
“The rhetoric used by the government has already spilled into antisemitic comment on various social media platforms, and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community and other peace-loving South Africans,” the groups said. “This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African government to reconsider its decision immediately.”
In a statement released late Monday night, “The South African government condemn[ed] in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border‚ which has led to the deaths of over 40 civilians‚” the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said. “Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack‚ the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice.”
The department called on the IDF to “withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories.”
JOSH BROOK, a former lone soldier (in Israel without close family) said that he thinks “South African foreign affairs have lost touch with the world.”
“They are not big players in the international arena that the political pressure or opinions of their government make a difference,” Brook explained. “If this is how South Africa would like to treat its relationship with Israel, they will be the ones to lose out on what Israel provides to developing Africa.”
A South African who wished to remain anonymous and has lived near the Gaza border, said this was all very personal for him. “I ran to the bomb shelters, heard the sirens and worried about returning home and thinking about tunnels under the fields of my kibbutz. When I message my host family and ask them if they are safe instead of asking them if they are having a good day... it’s personal,” he said.
“I love South Africa. But it’s lost my respect in this case. As a nation that knows conflict, it should know that this issue is complex. Removing the ambassador takes us many steps backward,” he explained.
“South Africa’s biggest contribution to the conflict can be as a mediator and peacemaker. In this regard, it has totally burned its position and showed a weak stance. Acting like it was bullied and now all emotional and upset. But, it’s a country that has the freedom to choose how it acts. I respect that. Respect is a South African value, but a value not valued in South Africa at the moment,” the young man added.
David, a South African living in Modi’in, said that the current South African government will never be a friend to Israel.
“This is not the first time they have pulled there ambassador and most likely won’t be the last,” he said. “South Africa has never voted with Israel at the UN, so we are not losing anything there.
“South Africa is trying to make a big stink but still remain irrelevant on the world stage, and thus pulling their ambassador will not have any large or lasting effect,” he added.
South Africa’s main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, also blamed Israel for Monday’s violence.
“I stand firm on the principle of a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane said on Twitter. “I condemn the violent actions taken by ISRAEL against Palestinians. Violence can only result in more violence. Let there be peace in the Middle East.”
The Economic Freedom Fighters said it welcomed South Africa’s decision “to recall its Ambassador to Israel in protest of the racist Israeli aggression on Palestine. This, however, is a much simple move to a deeper problem about the injustice visited on Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel. #FreePalestine.”
There have been several calls for Israeli Ambassador Lior Keinan to be expelled.
Meanwhile, in Cape Town on Tuesday, hundreds of people took part in a Great Return March to mark “Nakba” (Catastrophe) Day, which was hosted by the country’s ruling party – the African National Congress – and BDS South Africa.
Attendees, who included members of civil society organizations, marched to the country’s parliament brandishing signs with slogans such as “Free Palestine,” “Stop the Killings” and #GazaUnderAttack while waving Palestinian flags. Protesters also carried fake coffins draped in Palestinian flags and flowers.