ANALYSIS: SA’s Israel snub ‘is just hypocrisy’
Experts say withdrawing ambassador displays double standards and will achieve nothing
South Africa’s withdrawal of its ambassador to Israel following the deadly shooting of Palestinian protesters has been criticised by thinktanks who have labelled the government’s actions as hypocritical.
On Monday night, just hours after Israeli Defence Force personnel shot dead nearly 60 protesters demonstrating over the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, South Africa announced that its ambassador, Sisa Ngombane, would return home.
As the move was being slammed by the Democratic Alliance, the Jewish Board of Deputies, and the South African Zionist Foundation, hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets in Johannesburg and Cape Town on Tuesday calling for harsh international actions to be taken against Israel for the killings.
Researcher and scenario analyst Koffi Kouakou said the withdrawal could be described as South Africa showing Israel the middle finger over the IDF’s action.He described the move as the South African government positioning itself in terms of global politics.
“It’s clear that South Africa, under the new presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa, is trying to find its feet in the world and assert itself as a global player. Ramaphosa was very calculative in this move, although it has taken many by surprise in terms of the speed with which it happened. There has been tension brewing between South Africa and Israel, with the South African government for years being very pro-Palestinian.”
He said the withdrawal was hypocritical as the government had been silent on a number of other international human rights atrocities, especially with the displacements of the Rohingya in Myanmar and Saudi Arabia’s deadly bombings in Yemen which had killed hundreds.
“We need to ask why we have not pulled our ambassador from Saudi Arabia?”
He said South Africa needed to adopt a uniform international stance when it came to human rights atrocities and not pick and choose when it felt like being outraged.
Kouakou said the withdrawal of Ngombane would ultimately be laughed at by the Israeli government.
“Other than the withdrawal, what is South Africa going to do to Israel to punish it? Impose sanctions?” he asked.Professor Hennie Strydom, chairperson of the National Research Foundation for International Law at Johannesburg University, said the withdrawal was clearly a display of double standards.
“South Africa has always applied double standards when it comes to Israeli and Palestinian issues. There have been many other countries who are responsible for serious human rights violations without this kind of response from government.”He said the reason for the response was the government’s siding with the Palestinian cause since 1994.
Strydom said he doubted if the withdrawal would have the impact the government had hoped for.
“So far it is only South Africa and Turkey who have withdrawn their ambassadors.”
He said South Africa should be responding more vocally in terms of all human rights violations that occurred globally, regardless of whether they were committed by the country’s allies or not.
“If it had been 50 Israelis killed the government would definitely have not responded like it did now.”
Steven Gruzd, the head of the South African Institute of International Affairs governance and foreign policy programme, said when the Palestinian Israeli situation heated up tensions always rose in South Africa.“South Africa sees the Palestinian issue through its own historical lens. The level of reaction we are seeing now has not been seen at the same level with other international human rights violations.”
He said he believed it was in line with the decision taken at the ANC’s December elective conference to downgrade South Africa's embassy in Israel.
“This may be the opening salvo in that [the downgrading].”
He said if South Africa was going to react like this, it needed to take the same stance with all other international human rights violations.
“The government must play fair. it cannot criticise one country responsible for such violations, but not others.”