Global South criticises Israel

Smoke and dust rises above a ruined urban landscape
Israeli airstrikes in response to Hamas terror attacks have caused widespread destruction throughout Gaza (image: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany, the USA and the UK have stood firmly behind Israel following the Hamas attacks. The Global South, however, sees the Gaza conflict differently. Pro-Palestine voices can be heard across the region. By Kristin Palitza and Denis Duettmann, dpa

The terrorist attacks by Islamist Hamas on Israel and the war in the Gaza Strip have deeply divided the world. Particularly in the Global South, the conflict is viewed very differently than in the political corridors of Washington, Berlin or London. Due to their own history, many people in Africa and Latin America see events through a post-colonial lens: for them, the Palestinians are primarily victims of Israel's occupation policy. 

"Many developing countries see the West's stance on the Israel-Palestine issue as proof that it applies international rules and norms selectively – according to geopolitical interests and not in a universal way," writes German-Brazilian political scientist Oliver Stuenkel in the journal Foreign Policy.

Many African countries have condemned the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in response to the Hamas attacks. There is widespread solidarity with the Palestinians, particularly in predominantly Muslim countries. In addition to some statements that explicitly refer to Israel as an "oppressor", many governments are calling for an end to violence against civilians and the implementation of a two-state solution. The African Union described "the denial of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people" as the "main reason" for the conflict. 

Satellite image of the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City at the centre of dense urban development
Satellite image of the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza: South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor described Israel's response to the Hamas terror attack on 7 October as "collective punishment" that included "innocent civilians" (image: Maxar Technologies/Handout/REUTERS)

South Africa refers to "war crimes against civilians"

South Africa – one of Africa's economically strongest and most modern countries and therefore a role model and mouthpiece for many states on the continent – is taking a "radical and extremely critical" stance towards Israel, Ran Greenstein, a political analyst at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, told the German Press Agency. Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor described Israel's reaction to the terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October as "collective punishment", which included "innocent civilians". South Africa has spoken of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, is seeking to recall its diplomats from Israel and has threatened to expel the Israeli ambassador. 

South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), which has been in favour of a "free Palestine" for many years, often counts Hamas representatives among its guests at political conferences. 

At the same time, according to the World Jewish Congress, South Africa is home to the largest Jewish community in Africa and the twelfth largest in the world, with more than 75,000 Jews.

Ultimately, South Africa – and many other countries in the global South – are engaged in a strategic balancing act, says Priyal Singh, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). On the one hand, they are committed to an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist world view; on the other hand, they do not want to jeopardise the good economic and diplomatic relations with Western nations that support Israel in the conflict, such as Germany, the USA or the UK. "It's a precarious dance between ideology and pragmatism," says Singh. 

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Criticism from Latin America

The Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip has also been widely criticised in Latin America. Although the Brazilian government condemned the Hamas massacre of civilians in southern Israel just over a month ago, it has also called on "all parties to exercise the greatest possible restraint in order to prevent an escalation of the situation". A resolution tabled by Brazil in the UN Security Council was vetoed by the USA because it did not mention Israel's right to self-defence. 

Argentina condemned the attacks by the Israeli armed forces on civilian infrastructure and called for international humanitarian law to be upheld. Jewish organisations in the South American country criticised this position. With 175,000 people, the Jewish community in Argentina is the largest in Latin America.

The left-wing authoritarian governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are clearly on the side of the Palestinians. They have criticised the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip and tend to relativise the violence of Hamas. The Cuban Foreign Ministry described the conflict as a "consequence of 75 years of permanent violation of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and Israel's aggressive and expansionist policy". Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro has accused Israel of having established a system of apartheid and of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. 

Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel once the attacks on the Gaza Strip began. Chile and Colombia recalled their ambassadors for consultations. Like South Africa, Chile describes Israel's bombing as "collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population". The South American country is home to the largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Middle East. 

The views of the countries of the Global South are to be taken seriously, says analyst Ran Greenstein from South Africa: "Their attitude is a serious blow to Israel's attempt to normalise its relations with the Arab world and Islamic countries". Before the Gaza conflict began, Tel Aviv was still working on improving relations with Saudi Arabia, which could have led to better relations with other Islamic countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. "All that is no longer possible. The conflict has caused long-term damage from which it will be almost impossible to recover," said Greenstein. 

Kristin Palitza and Denis Duettmann 

@ dpa 2023