Africa: South Africa’s Referral of Israel to ICC Divides Opinion

South Africa’s decision to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza has triggered intense discussions locally and abroad.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told reporters during a visit to Qatar on Wednesday evening that South Africa “put through a referral” to the International Criminal Court (ICC) “because we believe that war crimes are being committed” in Gaza.

The alleged crimes were being committed “in real time,” Ramaphosa said, citing Gaza’s biggest health care facility, the al-Shifa hospital, as an example.

Israel said that Hamas has a command center underneath the hospital, a claim the Palestinian militant group denies.

However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Wednesday that troops found weapons, combat gear, and technological equipment during a raid on the facility.

“In the hospital, we found weapons, intelligence materials, and military technology and equipment,” the news agency AFP quoted chief Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari as saying.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry denied that there were any weapons at the hospital.

Israel has been bombing targets in the Gaza Strip for weeks in response to the terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7, in which 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli figures.

Over 11,000 have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run authorities, the majority civilians.

What are South African political parties saying?

South Africa’s far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party on Thursday proposed a parliamentary motion for the Israeli embassy in South Africa to be closed and diplomatic relations to be suspended.

“In the name of our own constitutional values we must end these relations until human rights of Palestinians are respected, promoted and protected,” said the EFF party leader, Julius Malema.

“Israel must comply with international law and until then any relations with them must be regarded as an offense to our constitution.”

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) endorsed the motion that is expected to be put to a vote in parliament next week.

“Given the current atrocities in occupied Palestine, the ANC will agree to a parliamentary motion which calls upon the government to close the Israeli embassy in South Africa and suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel until Israel agrees to a ceasefire,” said the ANC’s national spokesperson, Mahlengi Bhengu, in a statement.

However, Corne Mulder from the the white nationalist party Freedom Front Plus (FF+) has cautioned against such a move.

“The fact of the matter is that if you expel the ambassador of Israel and cut all diplomatic ties with Israel, South Africa will not be in a position to play any role, whatsoever, in terms of any mediation or any chance to try and play a positive and constructive role to bring this conflict to an end,” Mulder said.

Pro-Israel organizations hit out at the South African government

Benji Shulman, Director of Public Policy at the South African Zionist Federation, hit back at the South African government — challenging it to stop interfering with Israel’s right to defend itself and instead facilitate the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

“The South African Zionist Federation maintains that Israel continues to conduct its defensive war against extremist Hamas organizations in line with international law against those who have killed women and children and Holocaust survivors and have also taken 240 hostages from a variety of nationalities,” said Shulman.

But political analyst Kwandile Kondlo agreed with the ANC’s stance.

“If the ICC cannot stand up and act, we have no reason to believe in that institution,” Kondlo said.

“If South Africa continues to be a member of that particular grouping, then I don’t know the reasons why. This is the moment for the ICC, to seek to be a truthful institution, an international institution of justice.”

‘Double standards’

Some observers have accused South Africa of double standards when it comes to its views about the International Criminal Court.

When the ICC put a request for South Africa to execute an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin if he attended the BRICS summit that took place in Johannesburg in August, there were contradictory statements from both the government and the ruling ANC — with others calling for South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC.

Similar arguments arose in 2015 when South Africa failed to arrest former Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir who had an ICC arrest warrant against him when he attended the African Union summit in Johannesburg.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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