South Africa to withdraw all diplomats from Israel, calls Gaza war 'genocide'

South Africa to withdraw all diplomats from Israel, calls Gaza war 'genocide'
South Africa - a long supporter of the Palestinian cause - said it will withdraw its diplomatic staff from Israel in response to Tel Aviv's onslaught on the Gaza Strip, which has now killed over 10,000 Palestinians.
3 min read
06 November, 2023
South Africans have overwhelmingly expressed support for the Palestinian cause amid Israel's war on Gaza [Getty]

South Africa's government said on Monday that it would recall all its diplomats from Israel to signal its concern over the brutal onslaught in Gaza, which has so far killed over 10,000 Palestinians.

Pretoria also said the position of the Israeli ambassador to the country was becoming "more and more untenable", accusing the diplomat of having made "disparaging remarks" about people condemning Israel over its atrocities in Gaza.

"The South African government has decided to withdraw all its diplomats in Tel Aviv for consultation," Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a minister in the president's office, told a press briefing.

Israel began its indiscriminate and relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip on 7 October, so far killing 10,022 Palestinians - almost half of them children.

Israel has gone on to impose a complete siege, depriving the territory from water, food and fuel supplies as the humanitarian situation in the densely-populated territory rapidly deteriorates.

Israel has also imposed multiple internet and phone line blackouts.

Pretoria has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) often linking it to its own struggle against apartheid.

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the recall of the diplomats was "normal practice", adding the envoys would give a "full briefing" to the government, which will then decide whether it can be of assistance or if a "continued relationship is actually able to be sustained".

"We are extremely concerned at the continued killing of children and innocent civilians in the Palestinian territories and we believe the nature of response by Israel has become one of collective punishment," Pandor told a press conference on Monday, as she hosted her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

"We felt it important that we do signal the concern of South Africa while continuing to call for a comprehensive cessation (of hostilities)."

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'Displeasure with the ambassador'

Earlier, Ntshavheni accused Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky, of making derogatory comments about South Africans, including members of government, "who are speaking against the genocide being committed by the Israeli government".

The foreign ministry had been instructed "to convey the South African government displeasure with the ambassador" through diplomatic channels, she said.

"We felt it important that we should call the ambassador in," added Pandor.

"There seems to be a strange practice among some ambassadors in South Africa, that they can just say what they like I don't know if it's because it's an African country and they disrespect us but it's something that we should not tolerate."

Numerous pro-Palestine protests have taken place across South Africa over the past month.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is among several ANC officials who have participated sporting flags and keffiyeh scarves, in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians.