Escalating Tensions: South Africa’s Diplomatic Withdrawal From Israel

Published 28 days ago
Encircled By Israel, Gaza Faces Catastrophe As Death Toll Soars
People search through buildings, destroyed during Israeli air raids in the southern Gaza Strip on November 6, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Heavy fighting rages in the northern Gaza Strip as Israel encircles the area, despite increasingly pressing calls for a humanitarian claim. The leaders of the main UN agencies issued a rare joint statement to express their indignation. More than 40 per cent of the dead in Gaza after nearly four weeks of war are children. (Getty Images)

South Africa intensifies its critique of Israel, recalling diplomats and slamming actions in Gaza as war crimes. As international condemnation grows, the government contemplates further sanctions amid widespread protests and calls for a decisive international response.

South Africa has recalled its diplomatic corps from Israel for consultation, with the country’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, issuing a strong critique of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza. Pandor stated that the killing of children in the Palestinian region is a “war crime”.

Pandor was responding to questions she received after the Cabinet announcement today, withdrawing South Africa’s diplomats from Tel Aviv.


The African National Congress (ANC)-led South African government has long shown solidarity with the Palestinian cause, with Palestinian resistance movements providing social and military aid in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Israel’s response to the attacks of Hamas on October 7, which, at the time of writing, have seen at least 10,000 casualties among Palestinians in Gaza, was strongly condemned by the South African government.

“We believe the nature of the response by Israel has become one of collective punishment,” continued Pandor, “which falls outside the practices of international humanitarian and international human rights law.”

South Africans themselves have demonstrated in vast numbers in the major cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, with protests occurring almost weekly outside the United States Embassy and Consulate.


South Africa is not the only country to have instituted diplomatic responses to Israel in recent weeks, with Chad also recalling its ambassador earlier today. Several South American governments, such as Colombia, Chile, and Bolivia, had earlier done the same.

The South African branch of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement welcomed the decision by the government but also critiqued the time taken to make such an action.

“The SA BDS Coalition welcomes our government’s Cabinet statement condemning Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people,” said Roshan Dadoo, spokesperson for the BDS, to FORBES AFRICA. “However, it took more than 10,000 Palestinians to be killed by the apartheid Israeli state before our government recalled all South African diplomatic staff for consultations.”

South Africa might take even further action following the last three weeks of conflict, with Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni stating in today’s post-Cabinet briefing that Israeli Ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky’s position was “very untenable”.


Belotsercovsky has been directly critiqued by both the Cabinet and Pandor for his remarks in South African media as of late, with Minister Ntshaveni also stating that President Cyril Ramaphosa had instructed the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to chastise him for “disparaging remarks…about those who are opposing the atrocities and the genocide of the Israeli government.”

“A genocide under the watch of the international community cannot be tolerated,” said Ntshaveni, sparing no words. “Another holocaust in the history of humanity cannot be tolerated.”

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) spokesperson Charisse Zeifert said in a statement to FORBES AFRICA that the organization is seeking an urgent meeting with President Ramaphosa regarding today’s Cabinet decision, stating, “Severing ties would be a decision contrary to everything that the government claims it stands for, that is, talking to both sides of the conflict. And the only people who will stand to lose are South African citizens.”

Both the South African Jewish community and the Palestinian diaspora have deep ties within the country, with tensions unlikely to abate without a greater resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine itself.


“The South African people demand our government act in multilateral fora towards an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian assistance for people trapped in Gaza with UN protection, for the reinstatement of the UN anti-apartheid mechanisms towards international sanctions and an arms embargo, and a swift investigation and prosecutions by the International Criminal Court into war crimes, crimes against humanity including the crime of genocide and apartheid,” concluded the statement by BDS.