South Africa says it won’t reinstate Israel envoy for now

‘We can’t be looking away,’ Pretoria’s PM says, two months after recalling Ambassador Ngombane over Gaza deaths

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

South African Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane signs the guestbook at the residence of then-president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, February 28, 2013. (Issac Harari/Flash90)
South African Ambassador to Israel Sisa Ngombane signs the guestbook at the residence of then-president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, February 28, 2013. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

South Africa is keeping its ambassador away from Israel until further notice, the country’s foreign minister announced.

“I’m very glad that I recalled the ambassador, because we could have not been in the situation that we are at now. It’s been a violation that has been going on for a long time, and we can’t be looking away,” International Relations Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told local media last week.

“We are holding back on our ambassador until we are certain that we are making headway. For us this is an unacceptable situation, completely unacceptable.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Ambassador Sisa Ngombane was recalled to Pretoria on May 14 “until further notice,” in protest of the deaths of at least 55 Palestinians in violent clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza border. Hamas later said that most of the dead were its members.

“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border‚ which has led to the deaths of over 40 civilians‚” a statement from the country’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation read at the time.

“The victims were taking part in peaceful protests against the provocative inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem,” the statement said of the mass protests organized by the Hamas terror movement. “The latest attack has resulted in scores of other Palestinian citizens reported injured, and the wanton destruction of property.

“Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack‚ the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice‚” it added.

Ngombane has been South Africa’s ambassador to Israel since early 2013.

Jewish leaders in South Africa termed the government’s decision to withdraw the ambassador “outrageous,” said it displayed “gross double-standards against the Jewish state,” and urged that the move be reconsidered.

“While we, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the SA Zionist Federation, regret the loss of life of civilians, we recognize that Israel as a sovereign state has the right to defend its own border and its own citizens,” a statement said. “Israel is facing a real danger with the incitement by Hamas of its own population to storm the security fence and attack Israeli civilians.

“By withdrawing its ambassador,” the statement went on, “South Africa is essentially walking away from playing any meaningful role in finding a sorely needed resolution to the conflict. The rhetoric used by the government has already has spilled into anti-Semitic comment on various social media platforms and the biggest losers are the South African Jewish community, and other peace loving South Africans.

“This is a victory only for extremism in the Middle East. We call on the South African Government to reconsider its decision immediately.”

The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, resolved last December to call on the government to immediately downgrade the country’s embassy in Israel. But the government in Pretoria has not yet said whether it will implement the decision.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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