US criticizes Israel’s ‘baseless’ genocide lawsuit, reigniting tensions with South Africa

US President Joe Biden greets South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 16, 2022.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

Accusing Israel of genocide in South Africa has further strained already shaky relations with the US and could have serious diplomatic consequences.

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest legal body, will this week hear a case brought by the Republic of South Africa, which accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people during its attack on the Gaza Strip. The lawsuit also seeks an emergency suspension of the military campaign.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby last week called the lawsuit “unwarranted, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact,” while Israel dismissed it as a “defamation.”

It is the latest divergence in a series of diplomatic disagreements between Washington and Pretoria, which the US sees as too close to Russia and China.

In May 2023, when US Ambassador Reuben Brigety accused South Africa of running arms to Russia through a mysterious merchant ship. A South African investigation found no evidence of the alleged arms supply, but ties between the two historic allies remained strained.

Before that, Brigety and other US officials repeatedly criticized Pretoria for its policy of non-engagement on the war in Ukraine, which Washington interpreted as favoring Russia.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa strongly denied the suggestion, and his government has since made it clear that it does not support the Russian invasion.

Still, Chris Vandome, senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Africa program, told CNBC on Monday that the Gaza conflict has erupted at a time when US-South Africa relations are “at a low ebb.”

“There have been a number of frustrations over the past two years, including the feeling that South Africa is being pressured into Russia-Ukraine, the US ambassador’s statements about South Africa’s internal security and its relationship with Russia, and US policy towards China in Africa. contributed to the deterioration of that relationship,” Vandome said.

Although Africa’s most industrialized nation has long been a “thorn in the side” of the White House when it comes to Israel and Palestine, Vandome indicated that the latest differences are exacerbating those frustrations.

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JANUARY 23, 2023: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meets with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandora (R) during his official visit to Pretoria

Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The debate in Washington over whether South Africa should continue to benefit from AGOA (the African Growth and Opportunity Act) has fueled South Africa’s diplomatic efforts to protect its most important investment partners, but many in the region see such discussions as threats that only serves. to harden ideological anti-Western positions,” he explained.

Passed in 2000, AGOA is a key tenet of US economic policy in Africa, providing tariff-free access to the US market for more than 1,800 products in 32 eligible countries by 2024.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative states that in order to meet the strict eligibility requirements, a country must “establish or make sustained progress toward the establishment of a market economy, the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process. .”

“In addition, the country must remove obstacles to American trade and investment, enact policies to reduce poverty, fight corruption and protect human rights,” states ÚSTR.

“Solidarity Against Apartheid Oppression”

South Africa’s close relationship with Russia is based on many past and present factors. Pretoria has repeatedly cited the USSR’s historic support against apartheid, and there is a pragmatic impulse to maintain friendly ties with its fellow BRICS.

During Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit last January, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the BRICS countries should play a proactive role in the emergence of a “redesigned global order”.

But the ruling African National Congress’s support for the Palestinian territories is different, Vandome explained, in that it is rooted in “solidarity against apartheid oppression” — a cause inextricably linked to the party’s founding ideology.

“Support for Palestine has been a mainstay of the ANC’s international relations policy since before the dawn of democracy and it was one of the few countries to take such a long and consistent position,” he said.

“Enshrining support for Palestine in ANC party documents voted and adopted at party conferences means that the president would be going against the will of the party if he took a different position at national level and that would leave him very political. exposed to critics from opposing factions.”

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South Africa’s elections this year are seen as the most significant since the dawn of democracy after the end of apartheid in 1994. The ANC is facing a serious challenge from the majority white main opposition Democratic Alliance and is expected to fall below the 50% threshold to govern for the first time in 30 years.

This opens the door to potential coalition discussions with smaller parties, and while foreign policy issues are not usually a deciding factor in South African elections, the division of Israel and Gaza could complicate the formation of such coalitions.

“This matter could prevent a ‘coalition of the centre’ between the ANC and the DA, which was a stronger possibility before the parties took different positions on the matter,” Vandome said.

“Furthermore, it could affect the funding of the party, as some businesses that previously supported the ruling party are now refusing support.”

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