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February 10, 2017 4:15 pm

As Jewish State’s Ties With Africa Blossom, African-American Journalists Visit Ghana to get First-Hand Look at Israeli Development Work

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

Israeli volunteers in Ghana. Photo: Embassy of Israel in Accra.

Israeli volunteers leading an after school educational program in Winneba, Ghana. Photo: Embassy of Israel in Accra.

A group of African-American journalists recently got a first-hand look at international development projects being run by Israel in the West African nation of Ghana.

“Our job is basically people-to-people diplomacy,” Shimon Mercer-Wood — spokesperson and consul for media affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York, which organized the trip — told The Algemeiner on Friday. “We want to reach out to different parts of the American public. The key is always relevance and we came to the conclusion that Israel’s very active and accelerating relationship with the African continent would be relevant and interesting to them.”

Mercer-Wood, who accompanied the delegation to Ghana, said, “Israel has a very rich history of ties with Africa that we are very proud of. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Israel was, surprisingly as it was a new and developing country itself, one of the biggest players on the African continent. It was involved in a whole range of fields, including building infrastructure, developing agriculture, defense and health. Relations later went into a dip because of the Cold War and intra-African pressures led by Egypt, but for the past two decades, particularly the last five years, there has been a very, very strong resurgence.”

Last summer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conducted a four-nation tour of East Africa and, according to Mercer-Wood, a West Africa visit is planned in the coming months.

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“The battle cry is, ‘Israel is coming back to Africa and Africa is coming back to Israel,’” Mercer-Wood said.

The goal of the Ghana trip, he noted, was two-fold — to “showcase the beautiful things Israel is doing in Ghana” and “inspire people by showing them how they can make a difference.”

“I was very moved to see for myself what Israel does and I was also moved to see how impressed the African-American journalists were,” Mercer-Wood said. “I could really see how much they appreciated it and were inspired by the things they saw and that was very satisfying.”

“Especially at this time, when certain people and organizations are making a real effort to drive a wedge between Israel and African-Americans, it was very meaningful to see how easily that can be refuted and how easily that can be exposed as hypocritical, dishonest and fallacious,” he continued.

International development work, Mercer-Wood explained, is driven by two types of interests — ideological (“being a force of good” ) and strategic (“building friendships around the world”).

“These don’t contradict each other,” he said.

In reference to the geopolitical side of the equation, Mercer-Wood stated, “Africa is very much a continent on the rise. A lot of major powers are investing a lot of money and a lot of effort into establishing a foothold in Africa — most notably China, but also the US, Russia and some of our rivals in our region. It’s makes sound diplomatic sense to say we want mutually beneficial relationships [in Africa].”

“It will take time, but I think in the long run, we will see diplomatic dividends to the development work we are doing in Africa, be it at the UN or bilaterally,” he said.

According to Mercer-Wood, the main thing gained by African nations from cooperation with Israel is “know-how.”

“From Day One, Israel’s strategy hasn’t been to go around handing out cash or gifts, but rather to train the trainers — capacity building, technology transfer and giving these countries the ability to develop themselves without need of external aid,” he stated.

“We get know-how as well,” Mercer-Wood went on to say. “Because for a lot of Israeli experts, part of their strength is they have experience working in many different places in the world. In agriculture, for example, in every different country they learn about new types of soil, meteorological conditions and other challenges to overcome. So we gain know-how even as we give know-how.”

Also, Mercer-Wood noted, Israeli businesses benefit from the reputation accrued by the Jewish state’s development activities abroad.

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