The mayor of south Africa's commercial capital Johannesburg, Mr Mayor Herman Mashaba, has suspended a senior member of his committee for publicly declaring that the city is a friend of Israel.
The Member of the Mayoral Committee for Health and Social Development (MMC), Ms Mpho Phalatse, made the comments at the South African Friend of Israel national conference at the weekend.
“I am a friend of Israel and the City of Johannesburg is a friend of Israel,” Ms Phalatse said.
Her remarks come exactly a month after South Africa recalled its ambassador to Israel over America’s inauguration of the Jerusalem embassy.
Mr Sisa Ngombane was recalled after International Relations and Cooperation minister Lindiwe Sisulu made contact with the US Secretary of State, Mr Mike Pompeo, about possibly delaying America’s move.
Mayor Mashaba said he was disappointed that Ms Phalatse attributed her personal remarks to the city.
“The MMC's remarks didn't adequately address the complexity and sensitivity of the issue. They caused confusion,” said Mr Mashaba.
He added: “It is for this reason that I've taken the decision as the executive mayor of Johannesburg to suspend MMC Phalatse pending an investigation into the full and proper context which these remarks were heard.”
Mr Mashaba believes the conflict in the Middle East is complex and requires a sensitive approach.
Other councillors, including those from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), called for Ms Phalatse to be sacked.
Councillor Sipho Sithole described Ms Phalatse's comments as disheartening and called for her to be “wiped out of council”.
“Any African subscribed to Zionism must hang his head in shame,” said Mr Sithole.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson, Ms Refiloe Ntsekhe, said Ms Phalatse had submitted an apology, and the party would now follow internal processes.
Meanwhile, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) condemned the move, saying Ms Phalaste was the target of “hysterical condemnation” as well as a “totalitarian strategy” to silence those with dissenting views.
"These are just the most recent instances of attempts to silence South Africans who challenge the anti-Israel narrative. It is all part of an environment in which Israel is being demonised to a degree that bears no relationship to reality," spokesperson Charisse Zeifert said in a statement.
She called on all South Africans to stand up against those who resort to bullying and intimidation to prevent others from exercising that inalienable right.