African National Congress Votes to Downgrade South African Embassy in Israel in Presence of Hamas Representatives
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress voted on Wednesday for an “immediate and unconditional” downgrade of its embassy in Israel at a special conference that was attended by members of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization.
The unanimous vote – held at a meeting of the ANC’s international relations commission during the party’s Elective Conference – means that the country’s embassy in Tel Aviv could soon be reduced to a “Liaison Office.”
A statement from the ANC declared: “In order to give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine; the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the SA government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a Liaison Office.” The ANC further stated that it concurred “with the PLO leader, General Jibril Rajoub, who was at our conference where (he) 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.”
Although the campaign to sever diplomatic ties with Israel has been waged within the ANC’s ranks for several months now by supporters of South Africa’s vocal anti-Israel BDS movement, many delegates to the conference insisted that the downgrade was spurred by US President Donald Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Israel as Jerusalem’s capital. However, it remains unclear as to whether and how the ANC’s vote will be executed; as the Mail and Guardian newspaper noted, the ANC approved a policy to boycott Israel at its 2012 conference, but this was never implemented by the government.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) “strongly condemned” the decision in a joint statement following the vote.
“This downgrade will do nothing for the Palestinian people, and have a detrimental effect on South Africans,” the statement said. “It appears to us 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’ wellbeing, and are rather obsessed with undermining the viability of Israel and harming the local Jewish community.”
The statement added that “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.”
Two members of Hamas’ political bureau – Mohamed Nazzal and Maher Obeid – have been attending the ANC conference, which began on Saturday. In a column for local outlet News 24, Jewish journalist Howard Feldman pointedly asked, “Why would the ANC choose to be complicit in such evil? Why, one wonders, would they choose to send a message to the Jews of their country that they support an organization that states very clearly in its charter that it seeks the death of Jews?”
In their joint statement, the SAJBD and SAZF warned that a downgrade of the embassy in Israel would leave South Africa poorer. “A downgrade will negatively affect the South African economy by jeopardizing (to name but a few) trade, tourism, access to hi tech and water technology,” the groups said. In diplomatic terms, they continued, “South Africa will forfeit a meaningful role to play as a peace broker.”
“South African Jews feel betrayed by the liberation movement of the ANC structures and are deeply disappointed that they were persuaded by those with obsession to vilify the Jewish state,” the statement concluded.
The main event at this week’s ANC conference was the election on Tuesday of South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as the party’s president, following a hard-fought campaign against his opponent Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
A former labor unionist and anti-apartheid leader who became one of South Africa’s wealthiest businessmen, Ramaphosa has in the past opposed efforts to break diplomatic relations with Israel – and may yet block Wednesday’s decision. During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Ramaphosa rejected a demand to close the Tel Aviv embassy.
“Maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel allows our country to continue to engage with Israel on issues of mutual interest, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Ramaphosa said at the time. He added that keeping relations with Israel had enabled South Africa to directly voice its objections to the Israeli government, as well as maintain a diplomatic office in the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
“This we would not have been able to do if we had curtailed diplomatic relations with the state of Israel,” Ramaphosa said. “We chose to remain engaged with the State of Israel, because it is often best when you want to solve problems to remain engaged, so that you can have some leverage.”