Cabinet has given its strongest indication that it might be mulling the removal of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, after Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni described his presence in the country as untenable.
Ntshavheni spoke directly to Belotsercovsky’s comments on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas as going against his “invitation as a guest in this country”.
“The position of the ambassador of Israel in South Africa is becoming very untenable. Cabinet has instructed Dirco to take necessary measures within the diplomatic challenges and protocols to deal with the conduct of the ambassador of Israel to South Africa.
“We leave it to Dirco to decide what will be done with the ambassador. He is a guest in our country and must conduct himself as a guest, and he has no right,” she said without speaking directly about which comments Cabinet was unhappy.
The minister was speaking on Monday at a post-Cabinet media briefing after the meeting was held by President Cyril Ramaphosa and his executive on 1 November.
In another move to strengthen its diplomatic stance, Cabinet has also instructed that all diplomats stationed in Tel Aviv should be withdrawn.
“The South African government has decided to withdraw all of its diplomats in Tel Aviv for consultation,” Ntshavheni said.
She did not elaborate on which positions these people held, as South Africa currently does not have a functioning embassy in Israel, maintaining only a liaison office after a decision to close the embassy was taken years ago in protest against Israeli government policies and actions in Palestine.
South Africa’s diplomatic stance in favour of Palestine and in opposition to Israel has continued since Israel’s invasion of Gaza and continuing airstrikes conducted by the Israeli Defence Force.
Ntshavheni doubled down on comments she made at a previous Cabinet meeting.
She described Israel as a perpetrator of another “holocaust”.
The government saw Israel’s actions as disrupting world order, and she warned that this could also spike regional conflict.
Ntshavheni took aim at the US government’s continued aid to Israel after the country retaliated against Hamas fighters who killed thousands of Jewish citizens in an attack on 7 October.
“Cabinet is disappointed by the Israeli government’s refusal to respect international law and the UN resolutions with impunity. The humanitarian corridors remain closed due to the continued attacks of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government, which increased the death toll to more than 9 500,” she said.
“The airstrikes in Gaza and the West Bank continue to attack schools ambulances and civilians. As previously communicated, a genocide under the watch of the international community cannot be tolerated. Another holocaust in the history of humankind cannot be acceptable. Israel is threatening the stability of the global system by its conduct against the Palestinian people.”
The ANC held a protest at the Israel embassy in Pretoria in October.
ANC deputy secretary-general Nomvula Mokonyane called explicitly for the expulsion of Belotsercovsky from the country.
On Monday, the ANC welcomed the expulsion of diplomats from Israel, with the party calling out Israel as committing crimes against humanity.
“The ANC continues to pledge and intensify its solidarity with the people of Palestine for freedom, independence, justice and equality,” the ANC said in a statement.