A video showing an Israeli diplomat being expelled from the opening ceremony of the African Union (AU) Summit in Ethiopia has gained a lot of traction on social media, with many varied reactions to the incident.
The video was originally posted by Israeli press Wallah News with the caption, “A serious diplomatic incident: members of the Israeli delegation were expelled from the African Union conference hall watch”
Israeli Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li seemed to be arguing with some officials before she conceded and was escorted out of the hall by security personnel.
Ebba Kalondo, the spokesperson for the AU’s chairman, explained that Bar-Li was removed from the summit because she was not the duly appointed Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, whom they had expected.
An AU official told AFP news agency that a non-transferrable invitation was given to Aleli Admasu, the ambassador to Ethiopia, Burundi and the AU who was appointed in March 2021.
Israel was quick to condemn the AU’s move, insisting that Bar-Li was an accredited observer with access badges.
The country’s Foreign Ministry particularly blamed South Africa and Algeria, tagging them as “extremist countries” which are “driven by hatred and controlled by Iran”.
The ministry then called on African countries to stand together against such harmful actions.
In response, Vincent Magwenya, the spokesperson for SA president Cyril Ramaphosa, demanded that the Middle Eastern country “substantiate their claim”.
South Africa and Algeria’s Alleged Opposition Against Israel
Within the AU, there has been much contention over Israel’s observer status, an atypical situation for the body which is known to value harmony.
In 2021, Israel’s observer status was unilaterally accredited by Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).
Mahamat’s decision triggered protests from a few member states who demanded the withdrawal of the accreditation.
At the 2022 Summit, in a bid to pre-empt a vote which could potentially cause an unprecedented rift to break out, the debate about withdrawing the accreditation was suspended.
Instead, a committee was set up and charged with delivering their recommendations, after consulting with member states, ahead of the vote at this year’s summit.
The six-member committee comprises South Africa and Algeria, who championed the opposition against Israel’s accreditation; Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who supported it; Cameroon, who requested to be on the committee; and Nigeria, whose inclusion was reportedly requested by South Africa.
The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly urged African leaders to take away Israel’s accreditation, citing Israel’s apartheid regime in Palestine.
South Africa’s disposition towards Israel is no surprise, considering its loud support for Palestine over the years.
SA and Palestine formed diplomatic relations in 1995, just a year after the former saw the end of its own apartheid regime in Cape Town.
Nelson Mandela, who was SA’s president at the time, made a statement in 1997 which showed the extent of the country’s devotion to Palestine:
‘The United Nations took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system…but we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.’
In more recent years, the country has continued to show support for Palestine by severing diplomatic ties with Israel.
In 2019, SA’s foreign minister announced that the country would not be replacing its ambassador to Israel. This was after SA recalled its ambassador in 2018 following Israeli-Palestinian clashes which resulted in the deaths of over 50 Palestinians.
This time around though, SA claims the removal of the Israeli diplomat is simply an “issue of principle” as Israel’s observer status has not been decided upon yet.
“Until the AU takes a decision on whether to grant Israel observer status, you cannot have the country sitting and observing,” Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy in SA’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told Reuters.
Furthermore, SA’s ruling party African National Congress (ANC) said Bar-li’s removal was intended to thwart “an attempt to undermine the current sitting AU Summit from considering a report that is supposed to guide discussions on whether Israel must be granted an observer status.”
On the other hand, Algeria is known for its ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran and support of the Palestinian cause.
In fact, Israel and Algeria have no official diplomatic relations and Israeli passport holders are not allowed to enter Algeria.
Groups from Palestine, which already has observer status at AU, have since praised Bar-li’s removal.
The 2021 accreditation was sought after by Israeli diplomats for nearly 20 years. The country had previously held observer status at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)—which was disbanded in 2002—but had since failed to regain the status after the AU was established.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been very vocal about his intentions to strengthen the country’s relations with Africa.
Israel currently has diplomatic relations with 46 African countries, chief amongst them being Ethiopia.
Sources: Times of Israel, Al Jazeera.