The South African parliament voted this week to downgrade the status of the South African embassy in Israel, “in solidarity” with Palestinians.
The resolution was proposed by the National Freedom Party (NFP), which holds only 2 seats in the South African Parliament but allied with the ANC to push the resolution through.
Despite the fact that the resolution passed, it was viewed as a highly partisan move that was supported by only 52% of the parliament.
Members of parliament from the Democratic Alliance (DA), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Freedom Front (FF+) all spoke out against the motion to downgrade the embassy.
In a statement, the NFP stated the party is, “ecstatic that the draft resolution to downgrade South Africa's embassy in Israel has been passed by Parliament…While many will argue that downgrading our embassy in Israel will impair our ability to act as a neutral mediator in the conflict. The NFP believes neutrality is not an option in the face of oppression and human rights violations.” NFP also claims that such activities would have been praised by Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist and first president of South Africa post-apartheid.
The resolution was met with criticism from the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) which issued a statement condemning the vote. The SAZF also emphasized the hypocrisy of the motion noting that, “The ANC government has created a foreign policy that aims to befriend dictatorships and bash democracies. It obsesses over Israel, which is the size of our Kruger National Park, and at the same hosts navy war drills with Russia, responsible for horrific war crimes and the deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainian civilians over the past year.”
Chairman of the SAZF Rowan Polovin told Ynet in a comment, "This symbolic motion does not represent the position of the majority of South Africans, who are either neutral or positively disposed towards Israel. It is a result of divisive political groups playing to their domestic base. It will have no impact on Israel. All it will achieve is to undermine South Africa's own international credibility. Israel is building warmer ties to the Middle East and Africa, and South Africa is increasingly positioning itself as an antagonist to peace and normalization."
Christian pro-Israel groups in South Africa also condemned the parliament’s decision arguing that the move encroaches on religious freedoms.
“A motion to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel, while only symbolic, sends a dark message to any Christian wishing to travel to the Holy Land of Israel for religious purposes. Tens of thousands of Christians travel to Israel yearly to visit the holiest sites of their faith, and have a right to access South African consular support and services during their pilgrimage,” said Pamela Ingubane from the South African Friends of Israel.
Despite the downgrading of status, the move is not likely to have a dramatic impact on diplomatic relations or travel to and from South Africa.
The resolution is the latest in a series of actions by the South African government which holds extremely anti-Israel views. Recently, South Africa has led the campaign to strip Israel of its observer status in the African Union, and several weeks ago they were responsible for the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat from the opening session of the African Union in Addis Ababa.