The recent decision by South Africa’s parliament to sever diplomatic ties with Israel has ignited criticism from the country’s largest opposition party and the main Jewish representative body. The motion, proposed by the radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, received support from the majority of lawmakers, particularly those from the African National Congress (ANC), known for its historical solidarity with the Palestinians.
During a passionate session in parliament, ANC members, many donned in Palestinian scarves, voted in favor of cutting ties with Israel due to its actions in Gaza. The motion, while non-binding, leaves the decision in the hands of the government, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, to state, “The president and Cabinet are engaged over the matter, which remains the responsibility of the National Executive.”
On the day of the vote, President Ramaphosa chaired a virtual meeting with leaders of the BRICS group, expressing concern about the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Gaza. Chinese President Xi Jinping labeled Israeli actions as “collective punishment,” while President Ramaphosa went further, describing the denial of essential resources to Gaza residents as “tantamount to genocide.”
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, opposed the motion, emphasizing potential repercussions for South Africans in Israel and the country’s representative office in Ramallah. The ANC’s decision, according to Emma Powell, the shadow minister for international relations and cooperation, has left South African citizens in Israel without access to essential consular services.
The Israeli Embassy in Pretoria, although unavailable for comment, saw its ambassador recalled to Israel ahead of the parliamentary vote. Mary Kluk, vice president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, condemned the decision, stating, “This vote had nothing to do with peace.”
This move comes in the wake of South Africa referring Israel to the International Criminal Court for potential war crimes in Gaza. Israel asserts it is acting in self-defense following an attack by gunmen affiliated with Hamas that resulted in the death of an estimated 1,200 people on October 7th. The situation remains complex, with global attention focused on the ramifications of South Africa’s parliamentary decision and the broader dynamics in the region.