South Africa to call in Israeli envoy for formal reprimand

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa will call in Israel’s ambassador to issue him with a “demarche”, or formal reprimand, a senior foreign policy official said on Wednesday, potentially deepening divisions between the two countries over the war in Gaza.

South Africa recalled its diplomats from Israel earlier this week to assess its relationship with the country as civilian casualties rise in Israel’s war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

South Africa criticised Israeli ambassador Eliav Belotsercovsky on Monday over public comments he made, but did not specify what they were about.

“The demarche will be asked for hopefully by today. Not sure when he will come in,” Zane Dangor, the director-general of South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told Reuters in a text message.

Dangor gave no further details of the demarche, a protest issued through diplomatic channels, and did not specify the reason for the reprimand.

“The ambassador of Israel has been making a number of comments … without having had any discussion with senior members of the government of South Africa,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Monday.

“I don’t know if it’s because (this is) an African country and they disrespect us, but it’s something that we should not tolerate.”

Israel’s embassy in South Africa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

South Africa has long been an advocate for peace in the Middle East and has rallied behind Palestinians, likening their plight to South Africa’s before the end of apartheid in 1994. Israel has rejected criticism that it has established a system of apartheid.

Asked in parliament on Wednesday whether she had tabled a proposal to expel the Israeli ambassador, Pandor said that she had not.

“As to expulsion, there is no decision with respect to that at this moment,” she said. “Should such a decision be made, we would… make the necessary announcement.”

(Reporting by Carien du Plessis; Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton and Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alexander Winning, Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)