South African charge d'affaires to be summoned for rebuke

Israeli observer delegation kicked out of African Union summit in Addis Ababa

Foreign Ministry blames South Africa and Algeria for severe diplomatic breach; Israel gained official observer status in 2021

Security guards ask an Israeli observer delegation headed by Sharon Bar-Li (center) to leave the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 18, 2023. (Screen capture/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Security guards ask an Israeli observer delegation headed by Sharon Bar-Li (center) to leave the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 18, 2023. (Screen capture/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An Israeli observer delegation at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa was kicked out of the opening ceremony on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said, blaming South Africa and Algeria for the severe diplomatic breach.

According to the Walla news site, which first reported the incident, security guards came up to the Israeli delegation during the opening ceremony and demanded they leave.

Video showed the Israelis, led by Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Africa Sharon Bar-Li, leaving after several minutes of discussion.

“Israel views seriously the incident in which the deputy for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union hall despite her status as an accredited observer with access badges,” said ministry spokesperson Lior Hayat.

“It is sad to see that the African Union has been taken hostage by a small number of extremist countries such as Algeria and South Africa, driven by hatred and controlled by Iran,” Hayat said.

“We call on the African countries to stand against these actions that harm the organization of the African Union itself and the entire continent,” he said.

Later Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced the charge d’affaires at the South African embassy in Israel would be summoned in the coming days for a dressing down by the ministry’s director-general Ronen Levy.

“There is no basis in the organization’s rules for the attempt to cancel Israel’s observer status,” the Foreign Ministry said. “There is a clear majority that supports Israel’s observer status at the organization.”

The African Union did not responded to a request for comment about the incident.

Asked about Israel’s accusations that South Africa and Algeria were behind the move, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya told AFP at the summit: “They must substantiate their claim.”

Sharon Bar-Li (via twitter)

The issue of Israel’s observer status has caused deep discord in the 55-member bloc.

At last year’s summit, a debate on the issue was suspended in a bid to avoid a vote that would create an unprecedented rift in the Union.

Instead, a committee was set up that was supposed to give its recommendations at this year’s summit.

The relationship with Israel is a rare point of contention for a body that values consensus, with powerful member states, notably South Africa, loudly protesting a decision in 2021 by Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, to accept Israel’s accreditation to the bloc.

The six-member committee was to have included South Africa and Algeria, who opposed Faki’s move to accredit Israel, as well as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who supported it.

Cameroon also asked to be on the committee, while South Africa requested the inclusion of Nigeria as well, diplomats said at the time.

From top left, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, Senegal President Macky Sall, Ethiopia President Abiy Ahmed, and Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, attend the ceremony to appoint Assoumani as the new African Union (AU) chairperson, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (AP Photo)

The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly urged African leaders to withdraw Israel’s AU accreditation, denouncing its “apartheid regime.”

The 2021 accreditation handed Israeli diplomats a victory they had been chasing for nearly two decades.

People walk past an electronic sign depicting the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union, in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on February 17, 2023. (Eduardo Soteras/AFP)

Israel was previously accredited at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but lost that status when the body was disbanded and replaced by the AU in 2002.

Seventy-two countries, regional blocs and organizations are already accredited, including North Korea, the European Union and UNAIDS, according to the AU’s website.

Leaders gather for a group photo at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. (AP Photo)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made strengthening Israel’s relations with Africa one of his main foreign policy goals.

Earlier this month he joined visiting President of Chad Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno in Tel Aviv to officially open the African nation’s embassy in Israel, a move both leaders hailed as “historic.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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