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)
Newly elected African National Congress president Cyril Ramaphosa reaffirmed on Saturday the South African ruling party’s commitment to downgrade the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv.
During a speech at the party’s 106th birthday celebrations in East London in the Eastern Cape province, Ramaphosa said: “The ANC reaffirms its commitment to give practical support to the oppressed people of Palestine, and we are of the firm view that the downgrade of the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office would help to send a strong signal in this regard.”
The comments come just days after Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, penned an open letter to Ramaphosa appealing to him not to implement the party’s resolution to downgrade the embassy.
In the letter, Meshoe said the move would disqualify South Africa from playing a role in any future peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
He said Ramaphosa should know that downgrading the embassy in Tel Aviv will never improve the lives of Palestinians.
“To my knowledge, Ramaphosa has not been directly involved in the negotiation and mediation between Palestinians and Israelis. So rather than downgrading, let him get involved in the mediation process as a skilled, able and talented negotiator. We might have better results than with President Jacob Zuma,” he said. “I cannot understand why, when many African countries are now warming up to and improving their relations with Israel, while new embassies and diplomatic offices are being opened, the ANC does the opposite by resolving to downgrade our embassy in Tel Aviv, and thus sour relations with Israel, a democratic country that has so much to offer to South Africa.”
Meshoe noted that South Africa “has many challenges in areas where Israel has specialized technology, yet we do not ask for their assistance for the benefit of our people, particularly the poorest of the poor. Israel is a world leader in innovation and technology that can benefit South Africa.”
“The ANC should take advantage of this fact and not allow itself to be pressured by the PLO and Hamas – which, as you are likely aware, is widely regarded as a terrorist organization – to refuse Israeli technology that can effectively address our challenges in the areas of drought, water and sanitation, agriculture, health and security,” he wrote. “Why single out Israel for punishment in support of her enemies’ false accusations when there are so many glaring human-rights abuses on the African continent?”
Meshoe advised the ANC not to join “the army of haters of Israel who use every opportunity they get to bash and accuse Israel of human-rights abuses while ignoring human rights abuses in their own countries, and countries such as Libya, Syria, Somalia and Iran.”
He added, “If the ANC goes ahead and implements their unwise and ill-considered resolution, millions of Christians like myself will view such a move as a direct attack on their right to have regular pilgrimages to Israel, with whom we have spiritual and historical ties.”
In December, the 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 SA 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.”