South Africa trade union president urges government to downgrade Israel ties

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Newly-elected president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zingiswa Losi

The newly-elected president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Zingiswa Losi, has called on the South African government to downgrade its relations with Israel, the Afro-Palestine Newswire Service has reported.

Losi, the first woman to lead the country’s largest trade federation, made the comments at COSATU’s 13th National Congress in Johannesburg. She praised the fact that South Africa had withdrawn its ambassador from Israel indefinitely, but also called on the African National Congress (ANC)-led government to be “decisive” and fully implement a resolution made at the ruling party’s December congress that called for the immediate and unconditional downgrade of the South African embassy in Tel Aviv to a liaison office.

Losi also called on the South African government to do more to “push back against the corrupt advances” that Israel was making at the African Union (AU). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed the desire for Israel to become a member of the AU, in a renewed bid to increase cooperation. Netanyahu has announced on more than one occasion that he is trying to establish a closer relationship with certain states in an added attempt to cut instinctive sympathy for Palestine in international institutions.

The president’s statements have been welcomed by Palestinian officials.

“Together with the delegates at the COSATU conference, we also call on the South African government to heed the call from the ruling party’s members and to downgrade its diplomatic links with the Zionist apartheid state,” Hamas spokesperson, Hazem Kasim told reporters.

Palestinian Authority (PA) ambassador to South Africa Hashem Dajani also attended the COSATU conference, and reiterated the Palestinian leadership’s support for the downgrading of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Representing over two million workers, COSATU has consistently expressed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli state.

South African governmental and civic organisations have also been staunch allies of the Palestinian struggle and have regularly spoken out against the atrocities committed by the Israeli government.

Earlier this year, the South African government announced its intention to cut diplomatic ties with Israel in protest of their treatment of the Palestinian people. The government’s decision was further confirmed on the South African Parliament’s official Twitter account.

In January, the South African representative to the UN told the Human Rights Council that Israel is the “only state in the world that can be described as an apartheid state,” just days after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party called for government ministers to strengthen the country’s visa restrictions with Israel.

Last year, the government also resolved to downgrade the South African embassy in Israel to a liaison office, and cautioned Tel Aviv for blacklisting supporters of BDS, which included prominent figures of the ANC.

The BDS South Africa campaign has witnessed significant support from the nation’s public, with universities and churches backing a cultural and economic boycott of Israel affiliated organisations.