Israel and Africa: A Sign of Hope
JNS.org – With the excitement and historic nature of the Abraham Accords, the growing intimacy between African nations and the State of Israel has gone largely unnoticed. But connections to its African neighbors can play a huge role in helping Israel to reduce the abuse heaped on it in international forums, forge peace in the region, and elevate Israel’s deserved status as a world leader.
Both Chad and Malawi have stated in recent weeks that they are ready to open diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. Formal relations with Sudan look to be only a matter of time, especially after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the chief of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, earlier in the year.
This is significant because Africa was always considered very much a part of the bloc of nations that would automatically vote against Israel in international institutions and were reticent to be seen as growing too close to the Jewish state.
This was largely a result of threats over oil and trade, and the power of the bloc of 57 Islamic nations and 22 Arab nations that dominate the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing countries at the United Nations. The coalition gave Islamic nations an “automatic majority” in the NAM, which itself has the majority of member states at the United Nations and other international institutions.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t always like that.
Israel and African nations had good relations during the 1950s and 1960s, based on a shared fate — they had all thrown off colonialism to reestablish independence. Israel and sub-Saharan Africa faced similar challenges with increasing desertification and a lack of water resources. The young State of Israel was among the first countries to extend substantial assistance to the newly independent countries and their liberated peoples.
Israel’s aid was provided in fields from agriculture, medicine, and defense to infrastructure projects, such as the construction of airports, the establishment of shipping companies, and educational and professional training institutions.
This ended in 1973 when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) begrudgingly bowed to Arab pressure during the oil crisis of 1973. For the next few decades, African nations were manipulated to become a major source of antagonism toward Israel in multiple international institutions, like the United Nations, where the NAM could guarantee passage of any anti-Israel resolution.
Since that time, the most notable commodities Arabs have exported to sub-Saharan Africa have been terrorism, jihad, and Islamism. Terrorist groups like Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, and other offshoots of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have cost thousands of African lives. These groups remain a constant threat to sovereign nations in Africa.
Israeli intelligence, experience, and knowledge have played pivotal roles in ensuring greater security for African nations, and have thwarted many potentially deadly attacks. In addition, the Israeli government, through its international aid and development agency MASHAV, has been helping African governments and peoples to find solutions to the challenges of water scarcity and food security through advances in agricultural, food, and water technology. Israeli experts are at the forefront of providing electricity to rural villages through solar power, desalination, and ensuring food grown locally has a longer shelf-life.
These blossoming ties have improved diplomatic relations, with African representatives expanding their missions in Israel, attending numerous Israeli tech events, and starting to side with Israel in the international arena. In recent years, numerous African nations have voted with Israel or at least abstained on resolutions against the Jewish state that they would previously have supported instantly.
During the annual anti-Israel hate fest held every year — “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” — many African nations, including Cameroon, Nigeria, and Rwanda, changed their votes in favor to abstentions or votes against. As increasing numbers of Africans are beginning to understand — based on shared roots, mutual interests, and the growth of evangelical Christianity — the State of Israel is not just an ally, but a beloved nation. In Kenya, presidential candidates fight over who is more pro-Israel; one visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the eve of elections. In Zimbabwe, one of the presidential candidates is pictured wearing a Jewish prayer shawl and made the opening of an embassy a core election promise. Many African leaders talk of the fraternal bonds between the Jewish and African peoples.
In recent years, standing against Palestinian diplomatic bullying tactics, African nations have begun to realize that Israel is a committed and reliable ally in the battle against the effects of climate change and terrorism, and can help these countries progress and develop. The friendship between Israel and Africa is also starting to remove a major weapon in the Palestinian arsenal — the automatic majority against Israel in international forums.
During Israel’s early years, when it was constantly attacked militarily, economically, and diplomatically, it created the Alliance of the Periphery. This strategy called for Israel to develop strong ties with nations beyond the Arab bloc, such as in sub-Saharan Africa. With Israel no longer at war with many of its neighbors and the Arab League boycott all but ended, the diplomatic war on Israel is all that remains. Now, with its extensive achievements in Africa, this final pillar of the Palestinian rejectionist strategy is being dismantled.
While the automatic majority remains at the United Nations for now, it is being steadily eroded as a result of the impotence of Palestinian threats, the rejectionist bloc slowly losing power, and successful Israeli diplomatic achievements.
Most importantly, Africa is steadily moving away from the Palestinians and their maximalist positions, and its 54 nations are moving to support and collaborate with Israel.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship with the United States.