Israel and Africa: Building Bridges of Friendship

UPDATE 10 am Israel time Friday:

An attempted infiltration from northern Gaza was thwarted by IDF overnight as soldiers captured a Palestinian terrorist who breached the Gaza security fence.

Two Qassam rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza yesterday–one struck near Sha’ar Hanagev and other not far away near the Bedouin town of Rahut.


A family-owned South African farm flourishing as a result of Israeli drip irrigation technology supplied by the Israeli company Netafirm.

Unfortunately, the atrocious decision of the South African government this past month to no longer label goods made in Judea and Samaria as “made in Israel” has obscured the overwhelmingly positive sea change in Israel-Africa relations that has occurred in the last three years. In the last six months alone, there has been a virtual parade of African leaders visiting Israel, with the most recent visits including the new president of South Sudan and King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II of the Ashanti kingdom.

The Ashanti king with Israeli President Shimon Peres one week ago in Jerusalem.

One cause of this sea change has been the remarkable “coming out” of twelve African tribes who believe that they are Jewish.  Whether they claim to be descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel or descendants of Yemeni,  Syrian, or Portuguese Jews, these “Judaic” tribes can be found in Sao Tome, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cameroon, Uganda, Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana.

They practice varying degrees of Judaism. For example, in remote Ghanaian villages, one can fine African tribespeople practicing circumcision, celebrating Shabbat, and keeping Kosher (according to the Torah–not the Talmud). The 30,000 and more Igbo “Jews” of Nigeria observe niddah and kosher laws, circumcise their sons eight days after birth, and worship in synagogues.

Igbo "Jews" worshiping at their synagogue in Port Hacourt, Nigeria.

The better known Lemba “Jews” of South Africa, who number more than 70,000, consider themselves Christian descendants of Yemenite Jews and have applied to the South African government for funds to build synagogues so that they can return to their Jewish roots.

Another cause of this sea change has been the direct efforts of Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman and his pursuit of a “periphery doctrine” of foreign policy. In an attempt to broaden support for Israel in the world, Lieberman has spent the last three years reaching out to Eastern Europe, South America, and Africa.

Shortly after taking office in 2009, Lieberman became one of the few Israeli leaders in decades to take a full-blown trip to Africa visiting five countries and promising Israeli help in such areas as health, agriculture, and water purification technology. Now those promises are coming to fruition.

Just one week ago, Lieberman’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

In Uganda, Israel has just built a a new trauma center in the Mulago Hospital in Kampala and is donating ambulances to health centers throughout the country. In addition, Israeli agricultural experts are on the ground, training Ugandan farmers in advanced agricultural techniques.

In Kenya, Ayalon signed a cooperation agreement to provide, at Israeli government expense, experts and materials to improve the lives of millions of Africans who live around Lake Victoria by desalinating and purifying the waters of the lake and promoting hygienic fish farming techniques.

Some of the pollution around the edge of Lake Victoria.

As Ayalon pointed out upon his arrival in Africa: ” . . . projects of these kinds show the true and beautiful side of Israel, and strengthen Israel’s ties with the continent of Africa. While Iran tries to get a foothold in Africa with weapons, bombs and terror, Israeli democracy brings Africa progress, as well as agricultural and economic humanitarian aid.”

At the same time, Israel is suddenly back on the African diplomatic map with a reopening of the Israeli embassy in Ghana last year, and the expansion of embassies in Angola, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Senegal. There is even talk of Israel being approved for “observer” status at the African Union.

Last year, the new Israeli ambassador to Ghana, Sharon Bar-Lee, described how she was moved to tears by Ghanaian “talking drummers” spelling out the word “Israel” when she presented her credentials to the Ghana’s president. She went on to say that she could not believe the Ghanaian love for Israel displayed by Israeli flags flying from the rooftops of many houses and Israeli flag decals affixed to the bumpers of many cars.

Six years ago, even before the chronology described in this blog, Ghana soccer star John Paintsil raised the Israeli flag when Ghana won a game in the World Cup.

As this blog has often pointed out, there is a tendency among Israeli supporters to think that the “whole world” is against us. As shown by recent events in Africa, it most assuredly is not. 

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