South Africa lawmakers vote to suspend Israel ties, close embassy

The motion calling for the closure of the embassy passed with 248 votes in favour and 91 votes against.

Pro-Palestine demonstrators march in South Africa
Palestinian supporters demonstrate at the entrance to the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, on October 20, 2023 [File: Denis Farrell/AP Photo]

South Africa’s Parliament has voted in favour of a motion calling for the closure of Israel’s embassy in Pretoria and the suspension of diplomatic ties as tensions soar between the two countries over the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The action is largely symbolic because it will be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa‘s government whether to implement it.

The motion calling for the closure of the embassy and suspension of all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is reached passed on Tuesday with 248 votes in favour and 91 votes against.

The action was introduced by the left-wing opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters, backed by the ruling African National Congress and opposed by members of the centrist, white-majority, largely pro-Israel Democratic Alliance.

Ramaphosa has said his country believes Israel is committing war crimes and genocide in the besieged Gaza Strip, where Palestinian authorities have said more than 14,100 people have been killed in Israel’s air and ground assault since October 7.

The war in Gaza was triggered when the Palestinian armed group Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel that authorities there said killed about 1,200 people.

The vote was held after Israel announced it was recalling Ambassador Eli Belotserkovsky from Pretoria “for consultations”.

The African country, which has not had an ambassador in Israel since 2018, has long backed the Palestinian cause for statehood.

Many Palestinian rights groups have drawn parallels between the Israeli occupation and South Africa’s decades-long apartheid regime.

In recent years, a growing number of international rights groups have said Israeli policies towards the Palestinians constitute the crime of apartheid, something that Israel firmly denies.

South Africa also hosted a virtual summit of BRICS nations on Tuesday. The group of emerging economies consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa called for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza.

“As individual countries, we have demonstrated our grave concern at the death and destruction in Gaza,” Ramaphosa said in a social media post on Tuesday.

“Let this meeting stand as a clarion call for us to combine our efforts and strengthen our actions to end this historical injustice. Let us work together to realise a just, peaceful and secure future for the people of both Palestine and Israel.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies