Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe during a joint statement in Jerusalem August 10, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The organizers of the Africa- Israel summit scheduled for the end of October in Lomé, Togo, have not received official word from Pretoria that South Africa will be boycotting the summit, despite remarks to the contrary made last week by that country’s ambassador to Lebanon and Syria.
Nevertheless, there is no expectation at all that South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma would attend the conference, as South Africa has emerged as one of the leading forces in sub-Saharan Africa working against Israeli efforts to make inroads on the continent. For instance, it was South Africa, according to Israeli diplomatic officials, which has blocked for years Israel’s acceptance as an observer to the African Union.
The South African newspaper The Citizen
last week quoted Sean Benfeldt, the country’s ambassador to Lebanon and Syria as telling a delegation of the Popular Conference of Palestinians Abroad that Pretoria will not take part in the event which he described as a step to normalize relations between Africa and an “occupation state.”
According to the report, “the South African ambassador highlighted what he believed was Israel’s inhumane blockade of the Gaza Strip, stressing the need for practical solutions to the humanitarian suffering of the population in the besieged territory. Benfeldt also adopted the delegation’s proposal to invite ambassadors of African countries in Lebanon to a special meeting soon to talk about the summit with Israel and the need to boycott it.”
Al Jazeera reported last week that in addition to South Africa, several other African countries – including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania – have decided to boycott the summit.
One African diplomatic official characterized that as ‘fake news,” however, since no one expected those countries to take part.
The official said that while it was clear that Zuma will not attend, it is possible that the country might send a lower-level representative, perhaps an ambassador to one of Togo’s neighboring countries.
According to Al Jazeera, a group called the Popular Conference for Palestinians Abroad sent a letter last week addressed to African governments calling for a boycott of the summit.
“African countries which fought colonialism for decades and became free after a long suffering should never associate themselves with the only, longest and most brutal colonial project in the world today,” the letter read.
“In the name of justice and freedom and in the name of the African legacy of long struggle for freedom, we ask your country to disassociate from Israel’s Apartheid regime.”
The Jerusalem Post
reported earlier this month that the Palestinian Authority and Morocco were pressuring Togo to scuttle the summit, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned this at a cabinet meeting some two weeks ago.
“Various pressure is being placed on Togo’s president to cancel the summit, and this is the best testimony to the success of Israel’s presence in Africa,” he said.
Nevertheless, planning for the event continues, with organizers expecting between 18 to 25 African heads of state to take part.
In addition, the Israel Export Institute, which is a partner in the summit, will bring to Lomé a delegation representing over 100 Israeli companies in various fields, including agritech, health, homeland security, water management, cybersecurity and telecommunications.
Also, the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will host a panel at the conference discussing ways to establish trilateral cooperation between Africa, Israel and the United States.
Israel has in the past leveraged its good ties with the US as a way to improve relations with various countries around the world, with those countries believing that good ties with Jerusalem will help them develop better ties with Washington.