"Bullying and demonisation" is how the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) described Israeli ambassador Eli Belotserkovsky's recall by his government following South Africa's recall of its Israel-based diplomatic staff.
SAJBD chairperson Karen Milner chastised the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African government after Israel's foreign ministry called Belotserkovsky back to his native land on Monday for "consultation".
The Israeli government's move follows the 6 November announcement by its South African counterpart that the latter's diplomatic staff in Israel would be recalled for "consultation" with Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, asserting that Belotserkovsky's "position … in South Africa is becoming very untenable".
It was Ntshavheni's comments – echoed by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor's views on the same day that Belotserkovsky was "disrespectful" – that drew the SAJBD's ire, with Milner accusing the South African government of "hostility" towards Belotserkovsky.
"This takes place against the background of a sustained campaign of demonisation and bullying of the Israeli ambassador by the ANC ... and the South African government in a way that was unconducive to dialogue and engagement," Milner charged in a statement to News24 on Tuesday.
Last week, the ANC and the SAJBD met in what the former called "a frank and robust dialogue" related to the resurgence of the 75-year-old Israel-Palestine conflict, which flared up again after the 7 October attack by military and political organisation Hamas – which controls Gaza, one of three Palestinian territories – on Israel.
Following that attack, Israel retaliated by carpet-bombing Gaza, flattening hospitals, schools and refugee camps.
Following the ANC meeting with SAJBD, the governing party said, "The engagement with the SAJBD is aligned with the ANC's approach of consulting broadly and advocating for a just, peaceful and humane world."
On Tuesday, Milner said it was "a great pity that the situation in South Africa has deteriorated to the degree that Israel decided to recall its ambassador".
"We hope and trust that both the Israeli ambassador to South Africa and the South African ambassador to Israel will return to these respective countries [at the] conclusion of these consultations in a way that will contribute to continued dialogue and engagement in the interest of peace."
Meanwhile, MPs will this afternoon in the National Assembly vote on the motion that was introduced by Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema to close the Israeli Embassy in South Africa.
The motion was debated last week in a mini-plenary and the ANC supported it.