Israel recalls envoy to South Africa after Pretoria calls for Netanyahu’s arrest

The South African gov’t has repeatedly described Israel’s campaign in Gaza as ‘genocide’ and has filed a referral to the International Criminal Court against Israel for war crimes

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Eli Belotserkovsky on October 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Eli Belotserkovsky on October 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

Israel recalled its Ambassador to South Africa Eli Belotserkovsky for consultations on Monday following a series of highly antagonistic comments and steps by the government in Pretoria over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Earlier on Monday, a South African government minister called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by mid-December.

South Africa has already recalled its own ambassador and diplomatic staff from Israel, and the government has repeatedly described the Israeli campaign in Gaza as “genocide.”

“Against the background of recent comments from South Africa, the Israel ambassador to South Africa has been called for consultations in Jerusalem,” read a short statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Monday night.

During a press briefing on Monday, South African Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the government expected the ICC to issue an arrest warrant against Netanyahu, and that failure to do so would represent a failure of global governance.

“The world cannot simply stand by and watch. The global community needs to rise to stop this genocide now,” said Ntshavheni.

Pro-Palestinian activists gather during an anti-US and anti-Israel demonstration in front of the US Consulate in Johannesburg, on November 04, 2023. (MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

She noted that South Africa’s ambassador to The Hague in the Netherlands had filed a referral to the ICC “to investigate the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide” against Israel last week, together with the Comoros, Djibouti, Bolivia and Bangladesh.

“Given that much of the global community are witnessing the commission of these crimes in real-time, including statements of genocidal intent by many Israeli leaders, we expect that warrants of arrest for these leaders including Prime Minister Netanyahu will be issued shortly,” said Ntshavheni.

“Failure to do so will be indicative of a lack of will to act by the ICC and a strong signal to the total failure of the global system of good governance and the need to establish a new system.”

Earlier this month, the South African government recalled its ambassador and diplomatic mission to Israel, described the war against Hamas in Gaza as “genocide,” and said it was considering shutting down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria entirely.

And last week, a spokesperson for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party said the party “Cannot sit back and watch the genocidal actions of the Israeli regime.”

Seven other countries have taken diplomatic steps against Israel, since the beginning of its war against Hamas, including Bolivia, Turkey, Jordan, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, and Chad.

A man dressed in military fatigues, wearing a Hamas headband, and holding a banner comparing the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, with the Swastika of the Nazi party, addresses a crowd of pro-Palestinian supporters during an anti-US and anti-Israel demonstration in front of the US Consulate in Johannesburg, on November 4, 2023. (MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Israel declared war on Hamas in Gaza after the terror group invaded southern Israel on October 7 with approximately 3,000 terrorists who killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, brutally massacring babies, children and the elderly, as well as revelers at an outdoor festival, during the savage assault.

Hamas also abducted more than 240 hostages from Israel, whom it is holding captive in Gaza without access to visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that some 13,000 people have been killed in Israel’s subsequent air and ground offensive, but those figures cannot be independently verified, and likely include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including those who have died as a result of misfiring rockets launched by terror groups inside the enclave.

Pretoria has long been an ardent supporter of the Palestinians, and the ANC has sought to link its struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa to the demands of the Palestinians for an independent state.

Separately, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen together with Dutch Foreign Minister Henke Bruins Slot spoke with families of the hostages in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on Monday night.

Among those present were the family members of Ofir Engel, a dual Dutch-Israeli citizen who was abducted by Hamas from Kibbutz Be’eri.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Dutch Foreign Minister Henke Bruins Slot meet with the families of hostages taken captive by Hamas in Gaza, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, November 20, 2023. (Miri Shimonovich, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Cohen called on the Dutch government to help take action against Hamas’s sources of funding in Europe and said Israel would continue fighting the terror group “until its goals are achieved” and the hostages returned.

“I call on the Netherlands to act decisively against the terrorist organization Hamas and its affiliates, today it is us and tomorrow it is the entire West,” said Cohen.

“Since the massacre of October 7, many people in the world understand who Israel is facing Israel: a murderous terrorist organization, worse than ISIS, which does not hesitate to murder and kidnap babies, children, women, and the elderly.”

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