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South African Parliament votes to close Israeli embassy

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Picture: Pan Africanism Today / Taken on November 2, 2023 – A protest action in solidarity with Palestine in Johannesburg. The South African National Assembly voted to close down the Israeli embassy until a ceasefire is declared and Israel commits to binding UN-facilitated negotiations, with with 248 votes in favour and 91 votes against – the pro-Israel Democratic Alliance (DA) voted against the motion, while th ANC, PAC and EFF voted in favour. Addressing the BRICS Summit on Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Israel’s actions in Gaza were “tantamount to genocide”.

By Tanupriya Singh

The National Assembly of South Africa has approved a resolution for the closure of Israel’s embassy in Pretoria over the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

The motion, which was presented by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters party, Julius Malema, was approved by Parliament on November 21 with 248 votes in favour and 91 votes against. It will now have to be approved by President Cyril Ramaphosa in order to come into force.

Titled “Closure of the Israel Embassy in South Africa and suspension of all diplomatic relations with Israel”, the resolution had been tabled for debate last week.

“We call on the Ramaphosa ANC government to shut down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and end all diplomatic relations with that brutal apartheid Israeli regime. We call on all the world to isolate Israel by boycott, disinvestment and sanctions until they end their military occupation and allow Palestinian refugees in surrounding countries like Lebanon and Syria, the right of return,” Malema said in Parliament last week.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) had announced that it would support the motion “given the unfolding atrocities in occupied Palestine”.

The resolution passed by Parliament calls upon the South African government to close the embassy “until a ceasefire is agreed to by Israel and that Israel commit to binding United Nations facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be just, sustainable and lasting peace”. It was supported by the ANC, the National Freedom Party (NFP), Al-Jamah, the African Transformation Movement (ATM), and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.

It was opposed by the pro-Israel opposition Democratic Alliance.

Tuesday’s vote took place just as the BRICS bloc convened an extraordinary summit on the situation in Palestine. Addressing the meeting, Ramaphosa stated that the “collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime”. “The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide.”

Ramaphosa reiterated South Africa’s seven-point plan of action for a “just and peaceful resolution”, including an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, opening humanitarian corridors, ceasing arms supplies, and for the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes investigation.

On November 20, Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, again called on the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “It is because of these continued atrocities that are being committed with impunity by the Israeli government with the support and protection of powerful countries, that on the November 17, South Africa, together with the Comoros, Djibouti, Bolivia and Bangladesh jointly referred the situation in Palestine and Israel to the ICC.”

She added that the South African ambassador at the Hague had submitted the referral in person, asking the Court to investigate the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

“Given that much of the global community is witnessing the commission of these crimes in real time, including statements of genocidal intent by mainly Israeli leaders, we expect that warrants of arrest for these leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should be issued shortly,” Ntshavheni added.

President Ramaphosa had confirmed the referral during a state visit to Qatar last week, “because we believe that war crimes are being committed”.

Meanwhile, Israel recalled its ambassador, Eliav Belotserkovsky, late on November 20 for “consultations” in the lead up to Tuesday’s vote.

South Africa had recalled its diplomats from its embassy in Tel Aviv on November 6 (it has not had an ambassador to Israel since 2018). On November 10, the government issued an official reprimand to Belotserkovsky, having warned that the ambassador’s position in the country was becoming “untenable”.

In a statement welcoming Tuesday’s parliamentary vote, the EFF called on “the rest of Africa to come together, and recall our Continent’s history of violent colonisation and recognise that the people of Palestine need our support.”

The vote also took place in the wake of weeks of protests in South Africa in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and amid rising public pressure — from activists, civil society organisations, and trade unions — for the Ramaphosa government to sever ties with the Israeli occupation.

“What we are witnessing in Gaza is not a war – it is Zionist Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their historic lands, and genocide”, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said in a statement on November 19.

“The African Continent as a whole must stand in solidarity with Palestine because we can relate to their suffering. We know what it is like to be enslaved, colonised, stripped of dignity, and to be denied our humanity, simply on the basis of race. We are still victims of the daily violence of racist and colonial capitalism and its capacity to manufacture human suffering,” it added, calling upon Pretoria to work towards the isolation of Apartheid Israel, and to pursue sanctions against it.

Demands for severing diplomatic ties with Israel are growing in Africa.

The Socialist Movement of Ghana (SMG) , one of the organisations leading protests in solidarity with Palestine in Ghana, has called on the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo to close its embassy in Israel and to also expel Israel’s ambassador to Ghana.

“The apartheid settler State of Israel is openly engaged in a programme of ethnic-cleansing and genocide against the Palestinian people, backed to the bloody hilt by those past-masters of genocide, the US, and its Nato allies. Israel has offered the citizens of Gaza a choice between exile to a slow death in the Sinai desert and horror and violent death in their homes,” the SMG said in a statement.

“We refuse to be complicit and make it clear that we reject what Israel, and the Western establishments are doing in Gaza. We raise our voices in revulsion and demand that Israel is stripped of the pretence that any part of humanity condones its conduct. The isolation of Israel is an imperative for the forces of peace and national liberation.”

A petition has also been circulated by the Kenyans for Palestine Coalition calling upon the government of President William Ruto to issue an “unequivocal condemnation of Israel’s colonial and genocidal occupation of Palestine” and to indefinitely suspend all diplomatic ties with Israel, including the closure of its embassy in Kenya and the expulsion of its ambassador.