South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
The resolution is largely symbolic as it will be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whether to implement it; a presidency spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
But Ramaphosa and senior foreign ministry officials have been vocally critical of Israel’s leadership during its devastating military campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate them for potential war crimes.
The Israeli embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria was recalled to Tel Aviv for consultations ahead of the vote, which on Tuesday was resoundingly adopted by a 248-91 margin.
The parliamentary resolution was brought by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party last week when the governing ANC pledged to support what has been a central diplomatic stance for South Africa since Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
The chief whip of the ANC, Pemmy Majodina, amended the last point of the EFF draft resolution calling for the embassy’s closure and diplomatic suspension, to include the words: “… until a ceasefire is agreed to by Israel and Israel commits to binding United Nations-facilitated negotiations whose outcome must be a just, sustainable and lasting peace.”
South Africa has backed the Palestinian cause for statehood in Israeli-occupied territories for decades, likening the plight of Palestinians to those of the Black majority during the repressive apartheid era, a comparison Israel vehemently denies.
The EFF proposed the motion on Thursday in solidarity with the Palestinian people over the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Hamas-ruled Gaza, prompted by a deadly incursion by Hamas militants into Israel on October 7.