South Africa’s plans to downgrade Israel embassy ‘well underway’

South Africa announced on Sunday that its planned downgrade of its embassy in Tel Aviv is well underway, the Agence-France Presse reports.

By World Israel News Staff

At a time when Israel is enjoying a surge of international support, with a string of countries moving their embassies, to its capital Jerusalem, South Africa is going in the opposite direction, announcing on Sunday the planned downgrade of its Tel Aviv embassy well underway, the Agence-France Presse reports.

In Johannesburg on Sunday, Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu told reporters that the plans to downgrade the country’s Israel embassy to merely a liaison office were going ahead, AFP reports.

“The office will remain at the level of a liaison and that is how it will operate,” she said, adding that it would stick to consular and “people-to-people relations.”

“We will not be putting up a nomination for a representative at the level of an ambassador in Israel,” Sisulu said.

On Wednesday of last week, Sisulu told delegates at the South African Institute of International Affairs that the liaison office in Tel Aviv “will have no political mandate, no trade mandate, and no development cooperation mandate. It will not be responsible for trade and commercial activities.”

Th decision to downgrade the embassy was taken more than a year ago, in December 2017, by the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party.

“In order to give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the SA government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel to a Liaison Office,” the party said in a statement at the time.

The South African government has strongly favored the Palestinian side in the Arab-Israel conflict.

In May, 2018, the country withdrew its ambassador to Israel in protest over violence on the Israel-Gaza border, despite the fact that the violence was initiated by Hamas.

“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border‚ which has led to the deaths of over 40 civilians‚” South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement then.

“Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack‚ the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane with immediate effect until further notice‚” the statement said.

South Africa remained adamant in its position despite the fact that it quickly emerged that of the 62 Palestinians killed in the May violence, 53 were known terrorists, a fact admitted to by Hamas.