Pro-Palestinian protesters rally in South Africa

South Africans rally for Palestinian rights in Johannesburg on November 19, 2021.

(Photo: Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

South African Lawmakers Vote to Cut Diplomatic Ties With Israel

The parliamentary vote came a day after South Africa's government—which accuses Israel of "genocide" in Gaza—called on the ICC to arrest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

South Africa's Parliament on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for a suspension of diplomatic ties with Israel over what numerous lawmakers called its "genocidal" war on Gaza, a move that came a day after the country's government urged the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lawmakers voted 248-91 for the resolution calling on South Africa to cut ties with Israel until it agrees to a cease-fire in Gaza, where authorities say that 46 days of relentless bombardment by air, land, and sea has left more than 14,000 Palestinians—including more than 3,900 women and 5,800 children— dead, with tens of thousands more wounded, thousands missing beneath the rubble, and nearly 1.7 million people, or about 70% of the population, forcibly displaced.

Israel and Hamas on Tuesday appeared close to agreeing on a Qatar-brokered multiday cease-fire, although far-right Israeli officials including National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich expressed opposition to the deal—which reportedly involves the release of around 50 Hamas hostages and Palestinian women and minors imprisoned by Israel.

Applause and chants of "Free, Free Palestine" and "From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free" rang out in South Africa's legislative chamber as the results of Tuesday's vote were announced.

The nonbinding motion, which requires presidential approval to take effect, was introduced by the left-wing opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The measure is backed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and opposed by the mostly white, largely pro-Israel Democratic Alliance.

"We support the amendment. We want to applaud the ANC for its maturity on this matter," said EFF leader Julius Malema. "It doesn't matter; politically we disagree, but when it comes to the issue of humanity, we must protect the human rights of all human beings all over the world."

The lawmakers' vote came on the same day that ANC South African President Cyril Ramaphosa asserted during a virtual meeting with leaders of the so-called BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—that "the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime."

"The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food, and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide," Ramaphosa said.

Calling out the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, Ramaphosa added that "in its attacks on civilians and by taking hostages, Hamas has also violated international law and must be held accountable for these actions."

Israel recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eli Belotserkovsk, on Monday for consultations following Pretoria's call for an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant against Netanyahu.

South Africa's government on Monday called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The world cannot simply stand by and watch," ANC Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said Monday. "The global community needs to rise to stop this genocide now."

"Given that much of the global community is witnessing the commission of these crimes in real-time, including statements of genocidal intent by mainly Israeli leaders, we expect that warrants of arrest for these leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, should be issued shortly," she added.

Earlier this month, South Africa recalled all of its diplomats from Israel over what Ntshavheni called "the genocidal acts that the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian people."

South Africa—which was an apartheid state for most of the latter half of the 20th century—has long been critical of Israeli apartheid and other human rights crimes in Palestine. In March, South African lawmakers voted to downgrade the country's embassy in response to what it called apartheid and illegal occupation being perpetrated against the Palestinians.

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