The ruling African National Congress has endorsed a decision to downgrade South Africa’s diplomatic ties with Israel to the lowest level.
“In order to give our practical expression of support to the oppressed people of Palestine, the ANC has unanimously resolved to direct the [South African] government to immediately and unconditionally downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office,” the decision adopted at the party’s national congress this week states.
This video taken from South African television shows the announcement of the proposal passing:
Campaign group BDS South Africa called the decision “a huge step in the right direction and a massive gain for the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel movement.”
“The ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement, which benefited from boycotts and sanctions against apartheid South Africa, has provided direction and we look forward to others following suit,” BDS South Africa added.
With South Africa a political heavyweight on the continent, the ANC’s move may be particularly significant as Israel is currently waging an outreach and propaganda campaign to improve ties with other countries in Africa.
The ANC conference elected anti-apartheid veteran and South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as its new leader and the party’s nominee for president in 2019 national elections.
Ramaphosa was among more than a dozen South African leaders who earlier this year took part in a solidarity fast with Palestinian political prisoners.
Practical contribution to peace
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the country’s main Israel lobby group, said it felt “betrayed” by the decision, suggesting it was the result of a conspiracy in which the ANC’s policy process had been “hijacked” by people “obsessed with undermining the viability of Israel and harming the local Jewish community.”
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies maintained good relations with and defended the country’s former white supremacist government, as Sasha Polakow-Suransky detailed in his book The Unspoken Alliance on Israel’s close ties with the apartheid regime.
Its claims to speak on behalf of all of South Africa’s Jews were belied then by the fact that many South African Jews made key contributions in the liberation struggle, just as they now express solidarity for Palestinian rights.
On Thursday, South African Jews for a Free Palestine welcomed the ANC’s decision to downgrade ties with Israel.
“This move by the ANC actively applies pressure on Israel’s government to end its violations of international law,” the solidarity group said in a post on Facebook. “As members of the Jewish community we believe that this is one of the most practical things that South Africa can do to contribute towards a just peace in Palestine-Israel.”
The ANC’s resolution must still be implemented by the government.
Earlier this month, South Africa reiterated its support for a two-state solution when it rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The ANC decision calls only for a downgrade of South Africa’s embassy in Tel Aviv, without mentioning Israel’s embassy in Pretoria.
But when the call for downgrade was endorsed by the ANC’s policy conference last July, Faiez Jacobs, secretary of the ANC’s Western Cape branch, anticipated that if South Africa reduces its ties, Israel is likely to follow suit.
There is broad identification with the Palestinian struggle in South Africa.
Earlier this month, the Tshwane University of Technology announced it will respect the call for the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the violation and denial of Palestinian rights.
The ANC’s decision may be a sign that this broad solidarity is finally being translated into government action.
On Thursday, South Africa was among 128 countries that voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution condemning the US decision on Jerusalem – despite loud threats from the Trump administration. Thirty-five countries abstained, while just nine – including Israel and the US – opposed the resolution.
The emergency General Assembly session was called to consider the resolution after it failed to pass in the Security Council Monday because the US cast its veto. All 14 other states on the council supported the resolution.