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 Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, has decided to downgrade the country's embassy in Tel Aviv to liaison office.
The decision was announced at the ANC's National Conference in Johannesburg late on Wednesday night.
"The ANC's National Conference, the highest decision making body of our organization, has unanimously resolved to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a liaison office." The resolution, which the ANC has now adopted, reads: "In order to give our practical expression expression to the oppressed people of Palestine
, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the South African government to...immediately downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel." "We concur with the PLO leader, Jibril Rajoub, who was at our conference where explained that 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,” the ANC added.
A source said that International Relations Subcommittee met with and discussed the issue with ANC delegates attending the conference for over three hours on Tuesday evening and that an overwhelming majority were in support of the downgrade.
However, the source added that it will some take time for the decision to be made government policy.
Speaking on behalf of the country's Jewry, The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) said they felt "betrayed and deeply disappointed" by the ANC's decision.
"The SAJBD and the SAZF strongly condemn the ANC's resolution to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel. We question the motives behind this discriminatory decision that would effectively prevent South Africa from playing any mediatory role in bringing about peace or dialogue between Israel and Palestine," the organizations said in a conjoined statement. "This downgrade will do nothing for the Palestinian people, and have a detrimental effect on South Africans. We further question the motives of organisations and individuals who have managed to 'capture' the ANC's international relations agenda including the BDS." The SAJD and SAZF said it appeared that the ANC's foreign policy formulation process "was hijacked by forces that have a limited interest in promoting South Africa's and key South African communities' well-being and are rather obsessed with undermining the viability of Israel and harming the local Jewish community." "The broad presence of Hamas - a terrorist organization which actively calls for the destruction of Israel - at the Elective Conference and its extensive lobbying efforts supports this view," the organizations continued. "Those who are calling for the downgrade, as was clearly evident at the ANC International Relations Commission...are consistent in their desire to demonize Israel, while real human rights abuses like those occurring in Libya, Mynamar and Syria, among others, are ignored." It added that "they are pushing their radical anti-Israel agenda to the detriment of fellow South Africans, and against the interests of the country as a whole." The American Jewish Committee tweeted soon after the announcement that it was "deeply disappointed" in the ANC's decision.
"The AJC is deeply disappointed in the ANC’s vote to downgrade South Africa’s embassy in Israel and thus remove the 'rainbow nation' from the course of dialogue and peace among Israelis and Palestinians." On Thursday, SAZF chairman Ben Swartz said that this was not the end of the road.
"Despite the ANC’s decision, South Africa continues to have full diplomatic relations with Israel. That situation would only change should the South African government decide to adopt the recommendation as its official policy. We will be engaging closely with government on this issue," he said. "While the announcement was made late last night, we have already been approached by different interest groups who have expressed a willingness in helping us ensure this never becomes government policy."
"We assure you that we will do all that we can to ensure that the downgrade does not become a reality," he added.
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