/ 21 November 2023

Parliament passes EFF motion to cut ties with Israel

Benjamin Nethanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu. (AFP)

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) motion in parliament for South Africa to end  diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv and close Israel’s embassy was passed after a heated debate on Tuesday. 

The ANC had called for the motion moved by EFF leader Julius Malema to be amended to state that the closure of the embassy would only last “until a ceasefire is agreed upon and both parties commit to binding UN [United Nations] facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just and sustainable”. 

In motivating for the amendment to the motion, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina took issue with members of the opposition benches who were against the removal of the Israeli embassy. 

Majodina said it was not surprising that the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party, Freedom Front Plus, and the African Christian Democratic Party would vote against the motion. 

The motion was passed with the support of 248 MPs while 91 voted against it. President Cyril Ramaphosa will now have to consider parliament’s position, but the power to remove the Israeli embassy still lies at the Union Buildings.

“We are not ashamed to support Palestine fully,” Majodina said, accusing the opposition benches of hypocrisy for calling for negotiations instead of a ceasefire in Gaza.

She told the National Assembly that those arguing that Israel was the Holy Land were wrong. 

“This Israel is not of Jesus, it’s that of [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” she said, adding that it was right for ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky to leave South Africa. The Israeli government  announced on Monday that it had recalled Belotsercovsky following tensions with Pretoria over the war in Gaza. 

Malema praised the ANC for its “maturity” on the matter.

The DA and its allies argued that South Africa was “scoring an own goal” and limits its role in the peace negotiations. 

Freedom Front Plus MP Corné Mulder said parliament’s amended motion was dictating the outcome of a negotiation between Israel and Hamas. 

The DA said cutting diplomatic ties with Israel would have consequences for the 25 000 South Africans living in the state. The party argued that should this happen, those living in Israel and Ramallah in Palestine would have to go to Egypt and Jordan to reach the South African embassy. 

The National Freedom Party’s Shaik Imam accused parties voting against the motion of having benefited from Israeli funding. 

“It’s all about the money that they get, they have sold their souls,” Imam said.  

Al Jama-ah’s Ganief Hendricks said the Israeli embassy “must get the same fate as the hospitals in Gaza, we don’t want any memories of Israel in South Africa”.  

Tabling the motion in a hybrid session of the National Assembly last week, Malema called on Ramaphosa’s government to “shut down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and end all diplomatic relations with the brutal apartheid Israeli regime”.

He added that South Africa must end relations with Israel “in the name of our own constitutional values until the human rights of Palestinians are respected, promoted and protected”.

“Israel must comply with international law and until then any relations with them must be regarded as offensive to our Constitution,” he said.

The EFF leader called for the international isolation of Israel over the violence in Gaza. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has estimated that at least 15 271 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in retaliatory attacks for the 7 October raids by Hamas on Israeli settlements adjacent to the border wall, which claimed some 1 200 lives.

“We therefore call on the world to isolate Israel through boycotts, 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.

Pretoria had previously recalled South Africa’s diplomatic liaison team from Tel Aviv — the ambassador was withdrawn in 2018 — and had démarched Belotserkovsky.

The South African government has called the attacks by Israel in Gaza — in which thousands of women and children have been killed and hospitals bombed — genocide. It is hoping that the International Criminal Court will play an active role in efforts for a ceasefire in the Middle East conflict.

But at a weekly post-cabinet media briefing Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said there were no plans as yet by the government to close diplomatic ties with Israel.