Embassy downgrade: Jewish board of deputies says Sisulu contradicts Ramaphosa

Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu's claims that the downgrading of the SA Embassy in Israel has already been implemented, completely contradicts President Cyril Ramaphosa's sentiments on the issue.

So says the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

News24 previously reported that following the recall of South Africa's ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, Sisulu announced that he would not be replaced. 

In a speech published on the website of her department, Sisulu said the decision to not replace Ngombane formed part of the downgrade process.

In 2018, the South African government took a decision to downgrade its Israeli embassy to a liaison office, in line with a resolution taken by the ANC during its 2017 national elective conference.

However, the SAJBD pointed out that when Ramaphosa spoke at the Gardens Synagogue in Cape Town last September and at the SAJBD Gauteng conference in October, he assured the SA Jewry that his government was looking to "play a constructive role that will bring all parties together so that we find a solution to a problem that seems intractable in the Middle East".

The board said by downgrading diplomatic relations with Israel, South Africa would obviously render itself completely irrelevant in terms of any role it might play in finding peace in the region.

"The SAJBD further notes that in order to become official policy, the question of downgrading the SA Embassy in Tel Aviv has first to be discussed by Parliament and then ratified by Cabinet. Changes in policy cannot simply be declared by a government minister," the board said.  

The SAJBD said it strongly believed that an embassy downgrade would not only achieve anything in terms of advancing Middle East peace prospects, but would run counter to South Africa's own objective interests, particularly in terms of stimulating foreign investment.

"A downgrade would further be inconsistent with how South Africa has always conducted its foreign policy, which has been to engage with all sides and never to resort to the politics of boycott," it added.

The SAJBD called on the government to reject politically biased and discriminatory calls to break ties with Israel and instead find ways to re-engage in the region through maintaining open channels of communication with all parties.

Presidency spokesperson Khusela Diko referred News24 to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco).

Dirco sent News24 a reply which Ramaphosa gave to a parliamentary question on March 7.

In the reply, the president said the government was in the process of giving effect to the resolution relating to the downgrade of the embassy.

He said the government was clear on its support "for the achievement of the Palestinian state, alongside the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours".

"In implementing this conference resolution, we are mindful of South Africa's responsibility to continue engaging with all parties to the conflict to see where we would be able to provide assistance," he added.

Ramaphosa undertook to communicate once Cabinet has finalised the matter.

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