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Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called on the African Union to normalize relations with Israel on Tuesday night.
Speaking at a Foreign Ministry reception marking Africa Day and 50 years of Israel-Africa relations, Livni said that "our countries have always been linked by a deep affinity and mutual concern."
Of the African Union's 53 member states, only 39 have full diplomatic relations with Israel.
Relations between Israel and Africa have had their ups and downs, she said, but have been improving steadily since the 1980s, when diplomatic ties severed in the aftermath the Yom Kippur War were renewed.
After the Yom Kippur War, Chad, lured by Libyan money, was the first African country to cut off relations, explained Avi Primor, a former head of the Africa desk at the Foreign Ministry.
Primor characterized the 1960s as a period of a special idealistic relationship between Israel and Africa. "Africa was our big hope for penetration to countries of the Third World," he said.
In the difficulties of reestablishing relations in the 1980s, there was no longer any sense in talking idealism, Primor observed. The interest must be economic, he stressed.
The foreign minister noted the growing volume of trade between Israel and Africa, which has increased from $400 million in 1988 to $1.32 billion.
On a local note, she expressed particular appreciation to those African ambassadors who participated in this year's Jerusalem Day ceremony at the Knesset, boycotted by most other envoys.
Livni also said she was aware that the Africans were in Jerusalem for spiritual and not for political reasons, but was nonetheless pleased by their presence.
As if confirming Livni's comment about the spiritual importance of Jerusalem, Samson K. Bofua, Ghana's minister of Culture and Chieftaincy, declared: "The history and heritage of the Holy Land is of great significance to our people."
Livni, who was one of several speakers to emphasize Israel's moral obligation to Africa, said that "Israel cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Darfur, who have been turned into refugees in their own country."
David Kimche, a former Foreign Ministry director-general, said that Israel had felt obliged to help Africa in its anti-colonial struggle.
"We had to help our African brothers reach for independence just as we achieved independence. The Africa of today is not the Africa of the 1960s," he underscored.
"Africa today is moving," he said. "There is a dynamic, continued economic growth. Israel has to understand that it is in her own interest to become more involved in Africa.
"We must invest in each other's economies and coordinate our efforts," said Haim Divon, who heads Mashav, the Center for International Cooperation.
He stressed Israel's obligation to Africa, declaring that Israel would not be where it is today if it weren't for the countries that had aided it.
"Now it is our moral obligation to share our know-how with Africa," Divon urged.
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