Pretoria‎, South Africa
Pretoria‎, South AfricaiStock

South Africa Rugby has withdrawn an invitation to Israeli club Tel Aviv Heat to compete in a second-tier competition from March 24, AFP reported.

On Thursday, a press release from the national body said Heat plus teams from Spain, Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe and six South African sides would take part.

However, SA Rugby informed Tel Aviv on Friday that the invitation for them to take part had been withdrawn. A Mexican side could replace the Israelis, according to AFP.

SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said the decision had been taken after "we listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups".

"We have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC," he added.

Anti-Israel sentiments remain prevalent in South Africa, where the government has frequently accused Israel of applying a policy of “apartheid” towards Palestinian Arabs.

Last year, South Africa's former chief justice was ordered to apologize for comments he made two years earlier pledging support for Israel.

In 2019, the country announced plans to downgrade its embassy in Tel Aviv.

A year earlier, South Africa withdrew its ambassador to Israel in protest against the deadly violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

The decision came after the Hamas terrorist organization led violent and mass terrorist acts in protest against the inauguration of the new United States embassy in Jerusalem. Hamas later openly admitted that most of those who were killed in those violent riots were members of the group.

Several years ago, the ANC party proposed new rules regarding dual citizenship meant to stop South African citizens from joining the IDF.