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Israel South Africa Uncategorized Unites States

South Africa Under Fresh US Scrutiny, Now Over Treatment of SA-Israeli Soldiers

Amid South Africa’s anticipation of a smoother relationship with the United States and the prospect of continuing market access through the new AGOA agreement, six US legislators have launched a new challenge. In a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa, they warn of ‘consequences’ due to South Africa’s policy of arresting its citizens serving in the Israeli army. 

A letter dated March 12th, as reported by the South African publication, The Daily Maverick, was dispatched by six US legislators. They issued a warning that the arrest of dual South African-Israeli citizens serving in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) by the South African government “will have consequences for the US-SA relationship.”

The letter also refers to South Africa’s genocide case against Israel asking the South African Government what measures it has implemented to ensure that South Africa-Israeli nationals who serve in the Israeli Defence Force are not “falsely charged with genocide and war crimes.”

According to the Daily Maverick, the US legislators further noted that South Africa’s arrest warning could potentially extend to dual US-Israeli citizens vacationing in South Africa.

Among the signatories of the letter is Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat Congressman from Florida, who previously co-sponsored a bill with Republican John James to review South Africa’s relations with the U.S. The letter is also signed by Democrat Josh Gottheimer and four Republicans – Joe Wilson, Maria Elvira Salazar, James Baird, and Michael Waltz.

The letter was sent following Foreign Minister Pandor’s expression of concern about South African citizens joining the Israeli Defence Force to fight in Gaza. She told a pro-Palestinian demonstration in South Africa, “I have already started to alert South Africans fighting alongside or in the Israeli Defence Forces: We are ready. When you return home, we will arrest you.”

Over the past year, South Africa’s ANC Government has come under increasing scrutiny from certain United States legislators. These legislators have accused President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government of aligning with ‘maligned actors.’

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Dehli, India, on March 2, 2023. Source: GCIS

Tensions between South Africa and the US first heightened in May 2023. Reuben Brigety, the US Ambassador to South Africa, accused South Africa of loading weapons for Russia on the Lady R ship at its naval base in Simon’s Town. South Africa’s perceived lack of neutrality in the Ukraine-Russia war further strained relations. The tensions nearly reached a breaking point when South Africa decided to accuse Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.

This led to the introduction of a bill in the US Congress. The bill accuses the South African government and ANC leaders of siding with ‘malign actors.’ The legislators who introduced the bill called for the US Administration to conduct a comprehensive review of US relations with South Africa. The bill also proposed a review of South Africa’s inclusion in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which provides Sub-Saharan African countries with duty-free access to the US market.

In March of this year, Minister Pandor visited Washington to mend relations with South Africa’s largest trading partner. During her visit, Minister Pandor admitted that South Africa’s relationship with the US Congress and Senate could be rated a “six out of ten.”

When a bipartisan bill to extend AGOA until 2041 was introduced in the US Senate, plans to review South Africa’s eligibility were dropped.

The recent letter from the six US legislators arrives at a time when relations between Pretoria and Washington seem to have thawed, and South Africa’s participation in AGOA appears to be secure. However, it seems that the relations between the two countries have encountered another hurdle.

SA Jewish Community Appreciates US Concern 

Prof Karen Milner, the National Chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, has accused Minister Pandor of intimidating dual South African-Israeli nationals

“We appreciate the concern the senators have expressed regarding Minister Pandor’s relentless attempts to intimidate South African Jewry. Her crass behaviour, which she pursues with zealous vigour (such as her call for protests outside of embassies) is being noted in the diplomatic world and we are pleased that she is now being held to account,” Prof Milner said.

President Ramaphosa has not responded to reports of the letter. His spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya told NSN that the President has not seen the letter as he is traveling in South Sudan. 

“South Africa, as a sovereign, constitutional democracy, passed a law known as Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act. Minister Pandor was referencing this law. She was not coming up with her own individual plan as it has been falsely asserted. The law remains in place, and indeed, it will be enforced against those found to have violated it,” Magwenya said. 

Israeli-SA Dual Nationals are Fighting in the IDF, exact numbers are unclear. 

Prof Michelle Nel, an international law and military law expert in South Africa, said that dual nationals were fighting in the IDF, but she was not aware of the numbers.

“It is doubtful whether the numbers are high. I have seen some speculation in articles from Jewish sites that refer to 35, but there is no way of accurately determining that. It should be remembered that a person with dual citizenship does not need a visa to visit the country for which they hold citizenship, so there is no paperwork indicating the reason for travel as you would normally have for a visa application. The only requirement is that they leave and enter SA on their SA passport.”

Nel noted that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has claimed to have handed over the names of at least 70 South African citizens fighting for the IDF, with two individuals allegedly implicated in 2024. She observed that it tends to be pro-Palestinian groups who bring attention to South African Jews serving in the IDF to the National Prosecuting Authority.

“The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act 15 of 1998 prohibits any person within South Africa or elsewhere from offering to/rendering any foreign military assistance to any state unless that person has been granted permission by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) to offer or render such assistance. When referring to ‘any person,’ the Act defines such a person as a citizen or permanent resident of SA but also includes any foreign citizen who contravenes any provision of the FMA within the border of SA.”

The legislation, Prof Nel said, was written not to target citizens wanting to fight for the IDF but should be seen against a history in Africa of mercenary actions throughout the Continent and the instability that it created throughout its history.

Mandatory Military Service in Israel: A Conundrum for Dual South African-Israeli Citizens

Source: IDF

According to Prof. Nel, the challenge for Israeli-South African dual national citizens is that they are subject to the laws of both countries where citizenship is held. As an Israeli, one will be obliged to fulfill compulsory military service upon reaching the conscription age.

Prof. Nel further stated, “It is my understanding that citizens living abroad can obtain a deferment that must be issued by Israel in advance; otherwise, they are seen as deserters and may be prevented from leaving Israel should they visit without a deferment. If an Israeli lives outside Israel for longer than six months a year, they are not required to serve in the army unless they move back. Therefore, I do not see a South African citizen who has never been to Israel and resides in South Africa being drafted. They would, in my opinion, only join the IDF voluntarily.”

Regarding concerns expressed by six legislators over US-Israeli citizens on vacation in South Africa, Prof. Nel said South Africa would not be able to prosecute a US-Israeli citizen for merely serving in the IDF.

South Africa’s AGOA Agreement with the US: Is It Too Early to Celebrate?

While South Africans have generally assumed that South Africa’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is guaranteed, The Daily Maverick suggests that this may not necessarily be the case, according to its US sources. 

Under the terms of the renewed AGOA agreement of 2024, the programme will be extended by 16 years with an expiration date of 2041, but the President may undertake bi-annual reviews of the 49 AGOA-eligible countries. Moreover, not only does the President have this power but. Congress can also undertake out-of-cycle reviews of any at any time.  

The renewed agreement also provides the US President a menu of options to terminate a country’s AGOA benefits if a country does not meet the programme’s eligibility criteria. 

While the South African Government may have avoided expulsion from AGOA, its position is not secure. Adding to this uncertainty is the question of who the next President of the United States will be. A Trump return to the White House could lead to a more challenging environment for South Africa’s continued participation in the programme. 

Linda van Tilburg is a seasoned journalist and producer with roots in both South Africa and the United Kingdom. She began her career as a senior political correspondent for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), where she covered the country’s historic transition from apartheid to democracy. Notably, she was one of the chief correspondents reporting on Nelson Mandela during this pivotal period. Since then, Linda has held various roles, including serving as a newscaster and London Correspondent at Jacarandafm, South Africa’s largest commercial radio station. She pursued a Master’s degree in Global Politics at the LSE and has worked as a political risk analyst for S&P Global (formerly IHS Markit). She has also written articles for News24 and Vrye Weekblad and as a producer for platforms such as (US) and VCNewsDaily (US). Additionally, Linda served as a Newsletter Editor for a collaborative project between Facebook and the Sunday Times and is a regular contributor to