Cape Town – International Relation and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor has spoken out after Israel blamed South Africa and Algeria for the removal of an Israeli representative at the African Union assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, over the weekend.
The incident occurred on the first day of the summit, where leaders were discussing a slew of challenges facing the continent, including a record drought in the Horn of Africa and deadly violence in the Sahel region and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
A video posted on social media showed guards escorting Israel’s deputy director general for Africa, Sharon Bar-li, out of the AU assembly, which opened on Saturday.
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson described the incident as “severe”, noting Bar-li was “an accredited observer with an entry tag”.
“It is saddening to see the African Union taken hostage by a small number of extremist states like Algeria and South Africa, which are driven by hatred and controlled by Iran,” he said.
But Pando clarified the matter and said: “I read about the removal of a person who wasn’t authorised to be in the assembly, and I was very surprised to hear the reference, in very pejorative words to South Africa … I am not a security official at the African Union nor do I work for the administration of the commission and so the notion that I stand up and remove any person in a hall is quite insulting and demeaning.
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“And so, I was very surprised. I believe that the Israeli colleague is probably aware that we have objected to the commission chairperson’s unilateral decision to grant Israel observer status in our union.
“We have objected to this because we believe that the continued occupation of the land of Palestinian people, as well as the building of new settlements, the prohibition on movements and that Palestinian people have to carry ID documents to travel on different roads from other persons living in the area, that they cannot build their own homes and be assured that their land will not be occupied.
“These are all infringements of the contents of the African Union charter. And so on the grounds of Israel not reflecting the values, and principles and objectives of the African Union charter, we have expressed the view that they cannot be an observer in our organisation.”
The incident followed a long-running spat over Israel’s accreditation to the 55-member bloc.
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The 2021 decision by African Union Commission chief Moussa Faki Mahamat triggered a rare dispute within a body that valued consensus, with powerful member states, notably South Africa, loudly protesting the move.
Last year’s AU summit suspended a debate on whether to withdraw the accreditation and established a committee to address the issue, but the bloc had not said whether it would be discussed this year.
An AU official told AFP the individual who was “asked to leave” was not invited to attend the meeting, with a non-transferable invitation only issued to Israel’s ambassador to the African Union, Aleli Admasu.
“It is regrettable that the individual in question would abuse such a courtesy,” the official said.
Picture: Getty Images
Compiled by Betha Madhomu
Additional information by AFP