More Palestinian solidarity groups are adding their voices for the South African ambassador to Israel to be recalled. Sisa Ngombane has angered activists for his comments at a press conference on Friday, in which he defended Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Ngombane had meant to share the South African government’s official position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after the arrest and detention of local activist and academic Leigh-Ann Naidoo in international waters aboard the Women’s Boat to Gaza. Naidoo arrived home on Friday, after being deported for attempting to break the blockade of Gaza with 13 women activists.
But Naidoo’s heroic welcome at OR Tambo International airport was soured by the Ambassador’s remarks, which angered pro-Palestinian activists at the press briefing. Among other comments, Ngombane asserted that Palestinians were to blame for Israel’s attacks on Gaza in 2014.
In a statement, BDS South Africa slammed Ngombane, calling his behaviour “unprofessional and exceptionally distasteful manner”.
“Ngombane has frequently contradicted both ANC resolutions and Government policies. We have received several reports increasingly suggesting that Ngombane has become an advocate for normalising relations, especially trade, with Israel,” said the organisation.
BDS referred to a Jerusalem Post report (26 March 2016) in which Ngombane was quoted as saying: “it is important for the two governments [Israel and South Africa] to establish a pattern of meeting and talking so that they can find avenues of common ground outside the heated political arena. Trade is one of those avenues.”
Ambassador Ngombane has also belittled South African civil society saying that: “The South African street might be strongly pro-Palestinian, but its calls against Israel have nothing to do with government policy”. BDS argued that Ngombane is at odds with South African Government policy of no travel to Israel for SA Government officials.
In clear contradiction, Ambassador Ngombane speaking to the Times of Israel said: “I’m hoping that the President [Jacob Zuma] will feel in his second term that he needs to see ways how to engage, not from afar, not from a distance.” He also went on to explain that his Embassy has “a lot of plans for visits,” and was exerting “pressure” on Pretoria to send ministers to Israel.”
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) spokesperson Martin Jansen said Ngombane did not display the diplomacy needed for an ambassador.
“The moment of pride for Leigh-Ann’s bravery, and relief for her safe return, was marred and sullied by Ngombane’s boorish and unprofessional attitude and comments. His disrespectful conduct was an insult to the people of Palestine and showed contemptuous disregard for most South Africans who want to express solidarity with Palestinians.”
The PSC said it was further angered by the “disingenuous attempt” to make it seem as if Ngombane accompanied Naidoo back to South Africa when, in fact, he had already planned a personal visit home and his presence on Leigh-Ann’s flight was coincidental. The organisation believes the ambassador’s presence at the briefing was nothing more than a publicity stunt rather than concern for an activist, deeply traumatised by her experience in Israeli custody.
“Indeed, the lack of concern from his embassy is shocking. He and the embassy rendered no support to her during her incarceration and had been, in fact, ignorant of her capture for a long while after the illegal arrests by the IDF,” said the PSC.
The solidarity group said it echoed the WBGSA sentiment that “unless this step is taken as a matter of urgency”, South Africa’s policy positions on Palestine will unfairly remain biased towards Israel”. VOC