South Africa governing party hails ouster of Israeli envoy from African Union summit

Sharon Bar-li was escorted out of regional assembly, apparently at behest of South Africa and Algeria, in move one official says was coordinated by Iran

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)

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s governing African National Congress party on Sunday welcomed the “encouraging” expulsion of a senior Israeli diplomat from the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa.

Sharon Bar-li, Israel’s Foreign Ministry deputy director general for Africa, was escorted out of the AU assembly in the Ethiopian capital on Saturday.

Israel accused Iran of orchestrating the move with help from Algeria and South Africa.

Vincent Magwenya, spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was present at the summit, demanded that Israel “substantiate their claim.”

In a statement on Sunday, the ANC, which has compared Israel to an “apartheid state,” gave clear support for Bar-li’s ousting.

The ANC said her removal was aimed at “thwarting an attempt to undermine the current sitting AU Summit from considering a report that is supposed to guide discussions on whether Israel must be granted an observer status.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa looks on during the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the Africa Union headquarters in Addis Ababa on February 18, 2023. (Amanuel Sileshi/AFP)

During last year’s summit, the AU failed to conclude talks on Israel’s controversial accreditation as an observer country. Algeria and South Africa were particularly opposed to it.

According to the spokesperson for the chairman of the AU Commission Ebba Kalondo, the expelled Israeli diplomat had not been personally invited to the summit.

An Israeli diplomatic spokesperson insisted Bar-li had “valid accreditation as an observer,” accusing the AU of being “hostage to a small number of extremist states like Algeria and South Africa, motivated by hatred and controlled by Iran.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Hayat said “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.”

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 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.

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