Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Ethiopian counterpart Hailemariam Desalegn last year. ‘One reason for Netanyahu’s outreach to non-traditional allies such as China, India and countries in Africa is likely based on the realization that Israel should not, and does not have to, solely rely on .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel” – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, July 4, 2016, at the African summit in Uganda.
Over the past few years Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has placed an unprecedented and extraordinary focus on improving Israel’s relations with African countries. In July 2016 when Netanyahu visited four African states he became the first sitting PM to visit Africa in 29 years. Prior to Netanyahu’s trip the Knesset launched the Caucus for Israel-Africa Relations and he also traveled to Liberia this year to address the Economic Community of West African States summit. In October, 25 to 30 heads of African states are expected to attend an African-Israel summit with Netanyahu in Togo.
There are three key reasons for Netanyahu’s initiative: 1) there are worrisome trends among Israel’s historical and natural allies such as the US and Europe, 2) Israel is a perfect partner for solving Africa’s most pressing problems, and 3) to change the default anti-Israel majority in international organizations such as the UN.
One reason for Netanyahu’s outreach to non-traditional allies such as China, India and countries in Africa is likely based on the realization that Israel should not, and does not have to, solely rely on the US for diplomatic support and Europe for economic cooperation.
Although there is no country or continent that can fully replace US support for Israel, there are several worrisome trends which require this ongoing change in Israel’s foreign policy. Over the past decade the Democratic Party has become far more left-wing and today Democratic support for Israel over the Palestinians is at an all-time low (33%). Also, studies suggest that the number of American Jews is on the decline, their Jewish identities continue to weaken and recent polls have shown a dramatic drop in American Jewish support for Israel.
Most European governments can hardly be viewed as true friends of Israel and the massive influx of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East combined with the rise of both the far Left and the far Right indicate that the Europe-Israel relationship will continue to deteriorate. Although many far-right parties have expressed more sympathy toward Israel than most mainstream European parties, some are outright neo-Nazi, and virtually all far-left parties have shown incessant hatred toward Israel. The future of Europe’s Jews and Zionists looks dubious as the continent continues down the path of political polarization, uncertainty and economic stagnation.
The Israeli pivot toward Asia and Africa is therefore not only wise but necessary. While Asia provides Israel with the opportunity for unlimited trade, the cooperation with the African continent can possibly be transformed into a true and long-lasting friendship.
First of all, Christianity is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else on the planet and it is expected to have the largest Christian population of any continent by 2025. Historically there have been great tensions between Christianity and Judaism, but in the past few decades Israel’s strongest supporters have been found in observant Christian communities. Although Europe is a Christian-majority continent, the vast majority of European Christians are secular while the opposite is true in Africa.
Furthermore, the Christians in Africa are more likely to sympathize with Israel’s fight against Islamism as Islamic slave trade and colonization in Africa began already in the 7th century and persists to this today. Historians estimate that Islamic slave trade involved almost twice as many people as transatlantic slave trade.
Secondly, because Israel borders on Africa and therefore shares a similar climate, Israel has managed to develop innovative technology and solutions that are exceptionally well suited for African countries. Israel has become a world leader in water technology, renewable energy, agriculture, healthcare, telecommunications, emergency disaster relief and more. The skills and technology that Israel has developed over the past decades can help the people of Africa build and maintain an even more promising future.
Thirdly, radical Islamic terrorism plagues large parts of Africa and no other country in the world has been as effective fighting it as Israel. Israel can help African countries understand the nature of the threat as well as share strategies, intelligence and technology including cyber security.
Israel might not be able to demand African support in international forums in exchange for increased trade and cooperation, but African leaders should realize that if some of the international pressure on Israel is relieved it would enable Israel to dedicate less resources on self-defense and more resources on innovation and external challenges.
There are 54 countries in Africa. If Israel can change the voting pattern of a majority of them, others will follow and the default anti-Israel majority at the UN would evaporate. It is not an easy task and may take decades to achieve, but it is the expressed policy of the Israeli government and more people and organizations should join this ambitious effort.
The Jewish People have always had a great desire and ability to bring prosperity to people well beyond our own communities – a Jewish concept known as “Tikkun Olam,
” to repair the world through acts of kindness. Netanyahu’s intensified engagement with Africa combined with the unique match of Israel’s innovations and Africa’s needs provide a phenomenal opportunity to repair the world and improve Israel’s standing among the nations at the same time.The author is a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps, a flagship program of the World Jewish Congress, and a board member of the Zionist Federation of Sweden. Follow him on Twitter: @GabRosenberg