South African lawmakers voted Tuesday to downgrade the country's embassy in Israel in response to its apartheid, illegal occupation, and other crimes against Palestinians—a move welcomed by human rights advocates around the world.
The resolution to downgrade the status of South Africa's embassy in Ramat Gan, just east of Tel Aviv, to a liaison office was introduced by the center-left National Freedom Party (NFP), which hailed the measure's passage as "a historic moment for our country and a demonstration of our unwavering commitment to justice, human rights, and freedom."
Holding just two seats in the Parliament, the NFP secured the resolution's passage with the support of parties including the dominant African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters, United Democratic Movement, African Independent Congress, Al-Jama-ah, and Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania.
"We can no longer stand by while Palestinian human rights are being trampled on."
While Israel's Foreign Ministry called the vote "shameful and disgraceful," NFP Member of Parliament Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam, who introduced the resolution, said after its passage that "this is a moment Madiba would be proud of."
Emam was referring to former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who advocated for Palestinian rights and for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
"He always said our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians," Emam said of Mandela, who died in 2013. "Today we took a step closer to the attainment of that freedom for Palestinians."
"We can no longer stand by while Palestinian human rights are being trampled on," Emam asserted. "By passing this resolution, we are sending a powerful message to the world that South Africa remains a beacon of hope and a shining example of what is possible when we come together in pursuit of a more just and equitable world."
This resolution demands accountability from Israel. It is a courageous move that demonstrates our commitment as a country to justice, human rights, and freedom. The state of Israel was built through the displacement, murder, and maiming of Palestinians. And to maintain their grip on power, they have instituted apartheid to control and manage Palestinians. This institution of apartheid by the state of Israel contravenes international law and is a violation of the human rights of Palestinians.
"As South Africans," he added, "we refuse to stand by while apartheid is being perpetrated again."
Israel—like the United States, United Kingdom, and other Western democracies—supported South Africa's apartheid regime and even helped it develop nuclear weapons. After the fall of South African apartheid and the return to majority rule, the ruling ANC has vocally opposed Israeli crimes against Palestine.
For example, in May 2018 the party responded to Israeli forces' killing of scores of Palestinian protesters by excoriating the actions of "people who continuously remind us all about the hate and prejudice Jews went through during Hitler's anti-Semitism reign [and yet] exhibit the same cruelty less than a century later."
More recently, the ANC last month cheered the expulsion of a senior Israeli diplomat from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Senior South African officials have consistently condemned Israeli apartheid, which is being acknowledged by a growing number of human rights groups around the world, including in Israel.
Echoing former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Baleka Mbete—who served as South Africa's deputy president, National Assembly speaker, and head of the ANC—in 2012 called Israel "far worse than apartheid South Africa."
Like Carter and other Nobel Peace laureates including Mairead Maguire, Rigoberta Menchú, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the late South African anti-apartheid activist and religious leader Desmond Tutu condemned Israeli apartheid.
The new NFP-led resolution follows last year's call by the South African government for the United Nations General Assembly to declare Israel an apartheid state.
The measure was also passed on the same day that the Palestinian National Authority called on the world "to take immediate, concrete measures to hold Israeli officials accountable for their crimes and continual incitement and threats to commit crimes against the Palestinian people."
"Only the end of Israel's occupation and the dismantling of its apartheid regime will end this violence, racism, and fascism against the Palestinian people," the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said in a statement.
"If not accompanied by action, statements of condemnation will not suffice," the ministry added. "Urgent international intervention is needed to curb Israel's dangerous aggressions against the Palestinian people and to provide necessary protection."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Brett Wilkins.