South Africa Accuses US Congress of Adding it to a New ‘Axis of Evil’ Over Israel Genocide Case

WASHINGTON — South Africa seeks to limit the damage to its relations with Washington caused by its legal challenge to Israel’s assault on Gaza, a South African official said on Tuesday.

Naledi Pandor, who is South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, is in Washington seeking to sway members of the U.S. Congress from a proposed law that would further strain U.S. ties to Africa’s most vibrant democracy and a major mining, banking and manufacturing hub.

“I think there’s an attempt to take up punitive action against South Africa, this sort of axis of evil notion that’s very much part of the political culture,” Pandor said in response to a question from VOA at South Africa’s embassy in Washington.

In December, South Africa filed an application to institute proceedings against Israel at the United Nations’ top court. Pretoria argues that Israel’s actions in Gaza are “genocidal in character,” and aim to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza.”

In March, South Africa requested further measures from the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of weaponizing starvation by preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the sealed-off exclave.

Israel’s government has denounced the case, and the White House told VOA in January it considers it “meritless.”

The case has since inspired a bipartisan push in the U.S. Congress for legislation mandating a full review of the bilateral relationship with South Africa. The draft bill, filed by Republican Representative John James and Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz, claims that the actions of South Africa’s long-ruling African National Congress “are inconsistent with its publicly stated policy of nonalignment in international affairs.”

“South Africa has been building ties to countries and actors that undermine America’s national security and threaten our way of life through its military and political cooperation with China and Russia and its support of U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hamas,” James said in a statement when he introduced the bill in February. “We must examine our alliances and disentangle from those who remain willing to work with our adversaries.”

Pandor, who also met with think tanks and spoke publicly while in Washington, said she intended to remind members of Congress of the value of South Africa, on its own and as a gateway to the continent.

“We believe that any action to diminish the relationship would be most unwise,” she said, in response to another question from VOA. “Because these are two key democracies in the regions in which we exist.”

She said she believes the relationship between the United States and South Africa can help to promote peace and democracy on the African continent — and to support the agenda of development in Africa — “because I can’t imagine how initiatives directed at greater trade and development would become operational if the institutional capacity of South Africa is not utilized.”

South Africa is also a major beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which offers duty-free U.S. market access to 32 African nations. Congress must vote on whether to extend the program beyond 2025.

VOA asked Pandor whether the high-stakes diplomatic pushback has been worth it.

“What I do know is if there’s a struggle underway, the longer you take to address the demands of a struggle, the more violent and vicious the struggle becomes,” she replied. “So, the sooner you address peace and negotiations, the greater the opportunity for everybody to enjoy peace and security. This is the lesson of South Africa.”

And VOA asked analyst Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, if South Africa’s case had done anything to stop the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“I don’t think South Africa has reframed this conflict. I don’t think South Africa has really changed the direction at this point,” he said. “But it’s a thread that runs through it — this concern that South Africa has history which makes it especially sensitive to issues of discrimination and genocide. … It certainly added an element to conversation that wasn’t there until South Africa pushed it as aggressively as it did.”

Pandor, a veteran member of the long-ruling African National Congress, stressed that Pretoria’s problem is not with the White House. She told VOA she had not sought meetings with President Joe Biden or Secretary of State Antony Blinken during her Washington visit.

“The executive understands [South Africa] far more than Congress,” she said.

When asked what she’d tell Biden, Pandor’s answer was short.

“Cease-fire,” she said. “Now.”

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