S. African President: Downgrading of our embassy in Israel in progress

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said it believes that the downgrading of South Africa’s Embassy in Israel will "do nothing to further peace efforts in the region."

March 12, 2019 18:33
3 minute read.
S. African President: Downgrading of our embassy in Israel in progress

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at the State of the Nation address in January.. (photo credit: RODGER BOSCH/REUTERS)


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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that the country is going full steam ahead with its process of downgrading its embassy in Israel to a liaisons office.

A year ago, the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), passed a resolution at its National Policy Conference to downgrade the status of the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office, “in order to give our practical expression to the oppressed people of Palestine.”

At the time, the ANC said, “The downgrade of the South African Embassy in Israel will send a clear message to Israel that there is a price to pay for its human rights abuses and violations of international law.”

Ramaphosa made the comments late last week following an address in the country’s Parliament. He was asked by Parliament Member Ahmed Shaik Emam about the progress of downgrading the embassy and why it was taking so long to implement to the decision.

This led to a discussion over the matter which lasted for nearly 15 minutes in the country’s parliament.

“We are going to be downgrading, that is a decision that you must be rest assured will be taken,” he said. “As such, the South African government remains seized with the modalities of downgrading the South African embassy in Israel, and we will communicate once Cabinet has fully finalized on this matter.”

While addressing the matter, Ramaphosa said that in “implementing this resolution, we are mindful of South Africa’s responsibility to continue engaging with all parties to the conflict to see where we would be able to provide assistance, he continued, to a soft applause by Parliament members.

“Our approach is also informed by an appreciation of the constructive role that South Africa is being called upon to play in the quest for peace in the Middle East," he continued.

The South African president made it clear that the country supports “the achievement of a Palestinian state alongside the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbors.”

Asked by a second MP whether or not he believed in the two-state solution and was concerned that downgrading the embassy would be seen as taking sides, Ramaphosa said that as long as Palestinian state is not in place “we will adopt the stance we have taken,” he reiterated referring to the downgrade.

While the the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) praised and supported Ramaphosa’s reiteration that the country is committed “to playing a constructive role in Middle East peace efforts and the government’s continued support of the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbors” it said it was “both disappointed and perplexed” over the fact that Ramaphosa had “indicated that his government nevertheless intended giving effect to an ANC resolution to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel.”

“This indeed contradicted Mr Ramaphosa’s own observation that in order for South Africa to see where it might be able to provide assistance, it needed to continue engaging with all parties to the conflict,” the SAJBD said in a statement.

The SAJBD said it believes that downgrading South Africa’s embassy in Israel “would do nothing to further peace efforts in the region, but instead would significantly reduce this country’s ability to play any kind of role in furthering those aims.”

“We urge the South African government to reconsider its intention of implementing the downgrade,” the Jewish organization said, “and instead look for ways to re-engage with all parties to the dispute with a view to helping them to achieve a peaceful resolution.”

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement in South Africa said that it welcomes the comments and confirmation by the president to downgrade the embassy.

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