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How Israel-South Africa Relations Fell Apart Over Gaza

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Israel has recalled its ambassador, Eliav Belotserkovsky, to South Africa “for consultations,” as the African nation prepares to host a summit for world leaders and a vote on whether to shut down its Israeli embassy and sever diplomatic ties.

Belotserkovsky has been called to Jerusalem amid South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s criticism of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, according to Israel’s foreign ministry. “Following the latest South African statements, the Ambassador of Israel to Pretoria has been recalled to Jerusalem for consultations,” Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs posted late Monday on X. 

South Africa has been vocal in reprimanding Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and filed a referral to the International Criminal Court, seeking an investigations into what Ramaphosa has described as Israel’s “war crimes” and “tantamount to genocide.” 

Earlier in November, South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel and withdrew its diplomatic presence on the ground.

“Given that much of the global community is 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 Benjamin Netanyahu, should be issued shortly,” South African minister in the presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, also told reporters on Monday.

South African diplomats have long identified likeness between life for Palestinians under occupation and those who lived under apartheid, the legal system for racial separation in South Africa from 1948 until 1994.

In July 2022, over a year before Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7, South African diplomat Nalendi Pandor said, “For many South Africans, the narrative of the Palestinian people’s struggle does evoke experiences of our own history of racial segregation and oppression.”

Israel began striking the Palestinian enclave in response to Hamas attacks, in which 1,200 were killed and around 240 taken hostage.. Since then, at least 13,000 Gazans have died, among them thousands of children, U.N. workers, and journalists. At least 1.4 million people of  Gaza’s 2.2 million population have been displaced by the war. 

Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress party, among other smaller parties, will support a motion brought about by leftist opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters to close Israel’s embassy in the nation. South Africa’s parliament is set to vote on the matter Tuesday, which would take effect until Israel agrees to a ceasefire in Gaza and further negotiations carried out by the U.N. 

The move comes just as South Africa prepares to host a virtual summit with the BRICS, an economic bloc of nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to discuss Israel’s war on Gaza. Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, will also join the group in January. 

Among the leaders attending are Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has expressed his support for Palestinians and welcomed diplomats from Arab and Muslim nations in Beijing Monday. 

Russia and India have taken a strategic approach to the conflict, keeping in mind longer term aims. 

Putin has been accused of using the conflict to his political advantage, placing the blame with the U.S. “I think that many will agree with me that this is a clear example of the failed policy in the Middle East of the United States, which tried to monopolize the settlement process,” Putin told Iraq’s prime minister on Oct. 10. He offered condolences to Israel on the loss of lives six days after the attack, but said a Hamas delegation was in Moscow for talks on Oct. 17. 

At the time of the Hamas attacks, Modi expressed “complete solidarity” with Israel. While Modi has since “strongly condemned” civilian deaths in the war, India also abstained from a U.N. assembly vote on a “humanitarian truce” on Oct. 27. 

Ramaphosa is set to chair a meeting where leaders will deliver statements on Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, after which a joint statement will likely follow. 

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