With the government confirming its decision to recall all its diplomats from Israel and expressing unhappiness about the “conduct” of the Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Cabinet yesterday said it had assigned the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) to guide it on measures to deal with the envoy.
Addressing a post-Cabinet briefing in Pretoria, Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the position of the outspoken Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotserkovsky had become “untenable”.
Ntshavheni’s statement has aroused the concern of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), which is seeking a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa. Cabinet, said Ntshavheni, “has also noted with disquiet the continuing disparaging remarks of … Belotserkovsky”.
“This, against South Africans, the leadership of SA, both in and outside government, including civil society who are speaking against the holocaust being committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinians.”
She said the “disparaging remarks” made by Belotserkovsky, were contrasted by the statements of two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa, Ilan Baruch and Dr Alon Liel, “who have been consistent in describing the actions of their government against Palestinians as apartheid”.
“The disparaging remarks against those speaking up against the atrocities and the country’s leaders make ambassador Belotserkovsky’s position more and more untenable,” she said.
“As such, Cabinet has directed Dirco to convey the South African government’s displeasure with the ambassador formally, through diplomatic channels. He is a guest in our country and he must conduct himself like a guest,” said Ntshavheni.
Israeli ambassador ‘likely to be censured’
Political economy analyst Daniel Silke said the ambassador was likely to be censured “for his critical remarks, but I don’t think this will result in expulsion”.
“SA’s participation in Middle East issues is now largely in support of the Palestinians. And from an Israeli perspective, South Africa has a little role to play.
“The Jewish community in SA are feeling increasingly alienated by the ANC stance on the Middle East – feeling that the ANC is moving away from being even-handed, or maintaining a balance.”
Independent political analyst Sandile Swana said: “Since World War I, the British and Americans sponsored the idea that Hebrew people can just take the land in the same way the Europeans and Afrikaners did in South Africa.
“Abolishing settler colonialism, which involves the dispossession of the native population of their land, is what is at stake in the Middle East.”
Ntshavheni said the government condemned “the genocidal air strikes by the government of Israel on the people of Palestine, with a rising death toll that includes women and children”.
SAJBD national chair Prof Karen Milner said the organisation had called for an urgent meeting with Ramaphosa “to seek clarity on the outcome of the Cabinet discussion on the position of the ambassador of Israel to South Africa becoming untenable”.
“This would be contrary to everything government claims it stands for – talking to both sides of the conflict,” she said.
Commenting on the diplomatic fallout, political analysts conceded the Cabinet statement paved the way for a strong censure against Belotserkovsky – not an outright expulsion from SA.
University of South Africa political science professor Dirk Kotze said an expulsion of an envoy on political grounds was “only done when the diplomat has stepped out of line”.
With Türkiye, Chile and Colombia having recalled their diplomats from Israel, he described SA’s recall as “an international pattern”.