Politics, World, Middle East, Africa

Why South Africa condemns Israel, supports Palestine?

Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor says Israel's actions in Gaza remind Black South Africans of their experiences living under Apartheid

Hassan Isilow  | 14.11.2023 - Update : 17.11.2023
Why South Africa condemns Israel, supports Palestine?


The South African government has made its position clear expressing support for the Palestinians amid the ongoing attacks by Israel in the Gaza Strip, but it has also condemned resistance group Hamas for attacking and kidnapping Israeli civilians.

“We, who enjoy the freedom from Apartheid, can never, ever be the ones who agree to an apartheid form of oppression. This cannot be tolerated. This brutality should not be accepted,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in parliament late Wednesday while delivering a Ministerial Statement on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Pandor said South Africa joins the world in horror at the war crimes being committed in Palestine through the targeting of civilians, infrastructure, UN premises, and other vulnerable targets.

“These actions remind us of our experiences as Black South Africans living under Apartheid. This is one of the key reasons South Africans, like people in cities all over the world, have taken to the streets to express their anger and concern at what is taking place in Gaza and the West Bank,” she said.

Last week, South Africa withdrew all its diplomats from Tel Aviv for consultation over Israel’s assault in Gaza.

“A genocide under the watch of the international community cannot be tolerated. Another holocaust in the history of humankind is not acceptable,” Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a minister in the president’s office, told reporters.

The government also instructed the Foreign Ministry to take the necessary diplomatic measures to deal with the conduct of the Israel ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, whose conduct, they said is becoming very untenable.

Belotserkovsky is accused of disparaging comments against people raising their voices against attacks on Palestinians.

South Africa is among a handful of African countries maintaining diplomatic ties with both Israel and Palestine. It has strongly advocated for Palestinian freedom and has called for a two-state solution.

Historical links

Lesiba Teffo, a political scientist from the University of South Africa, said the country and Palestine have had historic relations for decades and that it is important for them to support the Palestinian cause for freedom.

“Palestine was with South Africa during the struggle against apartheid, while Britain and America never supported us but they were ever supporting Israel. This context is important,” he told Anadolu.

Teffo said South Africa has been consistent in supporting Palestine over the years.

Dirk Kotze, another professor of politics at the same university, also noted that South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has had historical links with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since the time of late anti-apartheid hero and first Black South African President Nelson Mandela.

Conflict fueling deep divisions

South Africa’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has created a deep division among opposition politicians and Jewish organizations.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has criticized the government for supporting Palestine and recalling its diplomats, saying this leaves South Africans in Israel vulnerable with no consular services.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and African Christian Democratic Party are also opposed to the government’s decision to recall its diplomats from Tel Aviv.

IFP legislator Mkhuleko Hlengwa said in parliament that recalling the ambassador amounts to regressive diplomacy and argued that it was a mistake.

Kotze said the DA has many supporters of Jewish origin, while other parties, like the Patriotic Alliance (PA), support Israel for religious reasons.

Two weeks ago, PA leader Gayton McKenzie said his party is willing to relinquish working in a governing coalition with the ruling ANC party in Johannesburg after it was asked to change its stance on Israel in favor of Palestine.

Kotze said there were many Christians in South Africa and that some were sympathetic with Israel because of their religious beliefs.

However, Iqbal Jassat, an executive member of the South Africa-based Media Review Network, told Anadolu: “We welcome the decision by South African government to recall diplomatic staff from the South African embassy in Tel Aviv.”

Jassat said they were pleased to note an announcement by the presidency that South African citizens deployed in the Israeli army in violation of the country’s laws, particularly the Foreign Military Assistance Act, would face prosecution.

Jassat said his group continues to call for the Israeli envoy to be expelled and the embassy in Johannesburg to be shut down.

“We believe that shutting down the presence of a regime such as the racist settler colonial Israel, and severing all links with it, is of paramount importance.”

He also said they condemn pro-Israel organizations who seek to justify the horrific massacres.

As the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip near their 39th day, at least 11,180 Palestinians have been killed, including over 7,700 women and children, and more than 28,200 others have been injured, according to the latest figures from Palestinian authorities.

Thousands of buildings including hospitals, mosques, and churches have also been damaged or destroyed in Israel's relentless air and ground attacks on the besieged enclave since last month.

The Israeli death toll, meanwhile, is nearly 1,200, according to official figures.

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