Members of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel mark the holiday of Sigd in Jerusalem November 20, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to visit four East African countries this summer, there is a golden opportunity for the State of Israel to strengthen diplomatic, humanitarian and commercial ties with the continent.
At a time when Europe’s economy is stagnant and there are threats of boycotts, Africa’s doors are wide open, even though only three percent of our trade today is with Africa. Israel has an opportunity to pivot our efforts toward the continent that has seven out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, and two seats on the United Nations Security Council.
In addition to seeking our help fighting Islamic terrorism, what Africa wants most is what Israel can give: water, agriculture technology and green energy. Indeed, we have the best water technologies in the world – we can grow food even in the harsh Arava desert – and have the expertise to bring green energy to the 600 million Africans who don’t have electricity. In other words, Israel can be for Africa a superpower of goodness.
The best ambassadors for this message are Ethiopian Israelis. The very same young people who filled up our squares with protests about the lack of social and economic opportunity could be trained to advance Israeli business and diplomatic efforts throughout Africa.
Imagine that every Israeli ambassador on the continent – at the United Nations – would be like Israel’s current ambassador to Ethiopia, Belaynesh Zevadia.
The lie of “Zionism equals racism” would be a thing of the past.
Imagine every Israeli water, energy and agricultural company fielding a sales force of thousands Ethiopian Israelis throughout the continent. Imagine an Israeli- Diaspora Peace Corps to advance Africa’s humanitarian and development agenda that has a strong contingent of Ethiopian Israelis among them. We may also be able to provide agricultural, water and solar training in Holot to non-Israeli Africans on condition that they return to Africa with these new skills to help them build their home countries.
To advance our interests in Africa without leveraging the talents of Ethiopian Israelis would be a missed opportunity of historic proportions.
Israeli leaders have long felt a natural affinity for Africa.
Theodor Herzl wrote, “Once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.” In 1956, Golda Meir began sending technical assistance to the newly formed African states. The Arab oil boycott following the Yom Kippur War forced the downgrading of that relationship, to the detriment of Africa’s development and Israel’s diplomatic standing.
Yet today the Israel-Africa opportunity is great. As the prime minister recently remarked, “Israel is coming back to Africa; Africa is coming back to Israel.”
An Israeli-related company is producing six percent of Rwanda’s energy from the sun. We could power the whole continent with green energy. Over 40% of Africans are under the age of 15. Israeli educational and youth movement innovations could improve the lives of every child. There are places in Africa that are afflicted with food insecurity due to climate change and war; Israel could help Africa feed its people and supply clean and healthy water.
Up until recently, Israeli efforts in Africa have been notable but have not been deployed to scale. There are tens of billions of dollars in international development programs that could be leveraged on behalf of Israeli efforts in Africa. Ethiopian Israelis would be in the best position to tap and utilize those funds on behalf of the people of Africa, as we raise the Israeli flag.
The author is an MK and chairman of the Caucus for Israel-Africa Relations.