South Africa recalls its ambassador

Flotilla affair leads to further diplomatic fallout.

Gaza Flotilla 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Gaza Flotilla 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
South Africa on Thursday announced that it was recalling its ambassadorto Israel for consultations over the Gaza flotilla incident earlierthis week.
South African Embassy spokesman Judika Tladi told TheJerusalem Post that Ambassador Ismael Coovadia was beingrecalled to Pretoria so that the government can get a “betterunderstanding” of what happened off the coast. He could not say whenCoovadia, who was leaving the country this weekend, would return toIsrael.
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 nointention of expelling the Israeli ambassador or cutting ties withIsrael,” Tladi said.
Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Dov Sergev-Steinberg was summonedearlier this week to a meeting and given a demarche from DeputyMinister of International Relations and Co-operation Sue Van Der Merwe.
“This was done in order to register the Government’s strongest possibleprotest to the Israeli Government, for its unjustified military actionand resultant loss of life inflicted by The State of Israel on aflotilla of ships carrying humanitarian relief supplies to Gaza,”Deputy International Relations Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim said in astatement to reporters on Thursday.
“The recall of Ambassador Ismael Coovadia for consultations is a way ofprotesting and a way of showing our strongest condemnation of theattack. This recent Israel aggression of attacking the aid flotillaseverely impacts on finding a lasting solution to the problems of theregion,” Ebrahim told journalists in Pretoria.
Some 3,500 protesters in Cape Town on Thursday called on South Africato sever ties with Israel, E-tv, which is based in the city, reported.
South Africa’s diplomatic recall comes several days after Turkeyrecalled its ambassador to Israel. Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkolarrived in Ankara Thursday. Nicaragua cut ties with Israel earlier thisweek and Ecuador announced Thursday that it was recalling itsambassador as well.
Israel expressed its regret and disappointment at the South African move.  
“Those who criticize Israel would be better advised to turn theircriticism against the terror-supporting rioters from the flotilla, whohave nothing to do with humaneness,” spokesman Yigal Palmor said in astatement.
Relations between Israel and South Africa are for all intents andpurposes 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 peopleof Gaza and made their lives nightmarish, is unconscionable andunsustainable,” said Ebrahim.
Ebrahim also spoke of the government’s commitment to contributingtowards peace in the region and ensuring an independent and viablePalestinian state.
“A long-term solution to the region can only be achieved throughnegotiation. What is needed is the creation of a climate of mutualtrust and peace,” he said.
A low point in relations with South Africa was reached during OperationCast Lead, when then-South African deputy minister of foreign affairsFatima Hajaig unleashed an anti-Semitic tirade against Israel.
“In fact, no matter which government comes into power, whetherRepublican or Democratic, whether Barack Obama or George Bush, thecontrol of America, just like the control of most Western countries isin the hands of Jewish money, and if Jewish money controls theircountry, you cannot expect anything else,” Hajaig was recorded assaying, to thunderous applause, at a pro-Palestinian rally in theLenasia township outside of Johannesburg in January 2009.
South Africa had one citizen on board the flotilla. Gadija Davids, ajournalist with Radio 786 in Cape Town, was aboard the MaviMarmara , on which the deadly raid that killed nine activistsoccurred.
Radio 786 is a community radio station, whose license holder is theIslamic Unity Convention, The Mail and Guardianreported. The journalist was not hurt and is expected back inSouth Africa Friday.
In a statement released Thursday, the South African Jewish leadershipsaid that while it is saddened over the deaths and injuries incurredduring the Gaza flotilla incident, it nevertheless saw the SouthAfrican government’s decision to temporarily recall its ambassador inresponse as “premature and inappropriate.”
“The relevant facts of the incident are not yet fully known; they willbecome so only after the investigation into its causes has completedits work and reported its findings to the international community,” theSouth Africa Jewish Board of Deputies said.
“In this regard, the leadership expresses its profound disappointmentat the decision, as it goes against the South African way of engagingin dialogue and not jumping to conclusions before all the facts areknown. The Jewish leadership regrets that South Africa is thus far theonly country, aside from Turkey, to have taken so radical anddisproportionate a step, despite not being directly involved in thematter,” the statement said.