Sudan’s deal with Israel is against all odds

Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan was directly involved in conflicts with Israel and sent troops to fight against the Jewish state in major Arab-Israeli wars.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner applaud as US President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, October 23, 2020. (photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior advisor Jared Kushner applaud as US President Donald Trump is seen on the phone with leaders of Israel and Sudan, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, October 23, 2020.
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
“From 3 NO’s to 3 YES’s,” tweeted US Ambassador Ron Dermer on October 23. “In 1967, the Arab world infamously declared in Sudan’s capital no recognition, no negotiation, and no peace with Israel. Today, Sudan joins the UAE and Bahrain as the 3rd Arab country to make peace with Israel in 2020.”
As Dermer noted, the Jerusalem-Khartoum accord is the third peace agreement signed this year with Arab states. Unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan was directly involved in conflicts with Israel and sent troops to fight against the Jewish state in major Arab-Israeli wars. Prior to the peace agreement on October 23, Sudan considered Israel an enemy state.
Within the week of signing the peace agreement, Israel agreed to send $5 million worth of wheat as a welcoming gesture and part of this new normalization. This is significant, as Sudan is currently beleaguered by a food crisis, hyperinflation and a declining economy. According to the UN, 9.6 million of Sudan’s 40 million citizens are insecure due to hunger and a national debt of $72 billion. Sudan consumes 2 million tons of wheat per year; Israel’s initial gesture of peace sets a positive tone.
The Republic of Sudan was the largest country in Africa and the Arab world until 2011, when South Sudan became independent. Today, it is the third-largest country in Africa. In the early part of the 19th century, extreme Muslim intolerance was prevalent, with forced conversion of Jews to Islam.
A small Jewish community was established in Sudan in 1908 with the goal of undoing the effects of this intolerance. What is not generally appreciated is that Sudan was the home of a small but thriving, distinguished Jewish community from 1908 until the Six Day War. In the early part of the 20th century, this Jewish community developed in the capital city of Khartoum, with Jews from mostly Mediterranean countries, but also Europe. This community had 1,000 Jews at its peak.
The Jewish community in Sudan was remarkably modern, Zionistic and aristocratic. Its members were educated in Christian schools that were part of the British Empire at that time. Sudan’s Jews enjoyed a rich and wonderful communal life that was very well-integrated, with congenial relations with its Muslim and Christian countrymen.
THE CHIEF rabbi of Sudan, Rabbi Shlomo Malka, was a deeply spiritual visionary respected by his community as well as Sudan’s other religious communities. Malka was originally a kabbalist and dayan (judge) who lived in Tiberias, Palestine. He was sent on a mission to Khartoum to reverse the effects of Muslim intolerance toward its small Jewish community.
Malka’s kabbalistic vision of treating all people with dignity, love and respect had generational ripple effects. He taught people to avoid hatred and promote peace among all human beings, regardless of race, religion or creed. He felt that humanity should learn from history and realize that all power derives from the strength of love and peace. His modus operandi was eloquently expressed when he was recently selected as “Tzadik of the Day” in Jerusalem. His impact was summarized in a poster displayed throughout Jerusalem by Paris-based international Jewish organization Alliance Israélite Universelle, as living proof of the profound and permanent effects of peace.
Malka stated that all of humanity should maximize efforts to increase peace in the world by avoiding hatred and learning from destructions throughout history. He called all of humanity to action by increasing the power of love and peace. A role model for religious tolerance, the rabbi’s impact in Khartoum left a long-lasting impression on Sudan’s imams and leaders. When Malka perished in 1949, he was mourned not only by the Jewish community but by the chief imam and chief priest of Sudan.
Unfortunately, the wave of religious harmony in Sudan was short-lived. The tide of antisemitism rose again when Sudan joined the Arab League in 1956. There was an inverse relationship between the rise of the State of Israel and intolerance toward indigenous Jews from Arab lands throughout the region. After the Six Day War, all remaining Jews emigrated from Sudan and relocated throughout the world.
It is not widely appreciated that the Jews of Sudan had an important impact on the State of Israel. They played a key role in liberating founding Zionists from British prisons in the region, including Yitzhak Shamir, Yaakov Meridor, Aryeh Ben-Eliezer, Meir Shamgar, Rahamim Mizrachi and Reuven Drori. These and other Zionists of the Irgun and Lehi underground were imprisoned by the British in Palestine and subsequently deported to detention camps in Africa. With the aid of a few brave Sudanese Jews from Khartoum – including Rabbi Malka’s grandson Mayer Malka and his wife, Vickie – some of the prisoners were liberated from detention camps and were able to return to Palestine.
THE ONLY physical remnant today of the Sudanese Jewish community is a Jewish cemetery in Khartoum with 18 graves. These graves have been preserved by current Muslim leaders who continue to recall the relationships the two religions enjoyed in Sudan, rooted by Rabbi Malka. Most graves that were in the Khartoum cemetery, including that of Malka, were relocated to Jerusalem in a special section of the Har Hamenuchot cemetery, marked “Jews of the Sudan.” The Sudanese Jewish community also had Sifrei Torah, which were airlifted on a cargo flight and distributed to synagogues in Geneva; North Bergen, New Jersey; and Herzliya.
It seems the venerated rabbi’s profound vision played an invisible historical role in the peacemaking efforts of 2020. Only 70 years after Malka’s death, US President Donald Trump, a Christian, brokered a peace pact between the Islamic Republic of Sudan, a fundamentalist Muslim country, and Israel, the only Jewish state. Sudan is the fifth Arab country to officially recognize Israel.
In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, God promises Abraham that he will be the father of many nations that will be exceedingly fruitful. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all consider Abraham their patriarch. God then creates the first accord with Abraham and endows the land of Canaan to Abraham’s progeny. Our modern challenge is to find a sustainable peace with Abraham’s other progeny.
It is believed that the peace agreement signed last week will have a positive, long-lasting and profound impact. By increasing person-to-person communication and trade, a cooperative pathway for future generations from different countries and religions has been paved.
The writer is a human rights attorney licensed to practice law in Israel and the US. She is a certified mediator and signatory of the 2013 Jordan River Covenant – an agreement between Jordan and Israel to share water from the Jordan River. She is also the proud great-granddaughter of Rabbi Shlomo Malka.
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