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Israeli foreign minister Lieberman readies for an African safari

By Afro-Middle East Centre

Indicating a shift in Israel’s foreign policy, foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, accompanied by a large delegation, will visit five African countries – Kenya, Angola, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Ghana – early next month. The visit underscores

the significance Israel has placed on strengthening ties with African countries, and follows the recent establishment by the Israeli parliament of a lobby to advance Israel-Africa relations, the ‘Knesset Lobby for Strengthening the Relations Between Israel and African Countries’. The lobby’s first meeting was on 19 May, where Lieberman espoused Africa’s political and economic importance for Israel, and announced that he planned to use his visit to lobby for Israel’s bid for observer status at the African Union.

The diversification of Israel’s foreign policy is in the context of its attempt to reduce its reliance on its traditional partners: Europe and the USA. Although Israel is increasingly worried by Europe’s heightened criticism of its policies towards t

he Palestinians, a European economic boycott against Israel is improbable. However, Israel is not taking any chances, and the recent withdrawal of funds and severing of investments by European pension funds and large corporations because of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank has caused panic amongst senior Israeli politicians. Israel also resents European and American meddling in what it regards as its internal affairs. The failed ‘peace process’ of US secretary of state John Kerry, and the US-Iranian rapprochement have increased tensions in Israeli-US relations. Israel is thus looking elsewhere for friends.

Apart from

its policy of looking east (as indicated by improving relations with India and China), Africa is an obvious target for Israel with its offer of hi-tech capabilities, weapons, start-up culture, water technology and agricultural know-how. And the strengthening of diplomatic ties with African states will, it hopes, help the effort to get an observer seat at the AU, and to win African support at the UN in the long term. The new Israel-Africa lobby conceded that its establishment comes ‘particularly at a time when the trend of boycotting Israel is intensifying in the West’.

Israel’s relations with Africa have been rocky. A rupture in relations between began afte

r Israel’s 1967 war with neighbouring Arab states, and its subsequent occupation of the West Bank (including Jerusalem), Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. After the 1973 war, most African diplomatic ties with Israel were dissolved, bar a few countries such as South Africa. At the UN, African countries voted as a bloc against Israel. The world – and Africa in particular – are no longer governed by the same strategic alliances and interests, however, and Israel is exploiting this.

Although only ten of Israel’s 106 diplomatic missions are in Africa, Lieberman announce

d that Israel planned to ‘invest more resources in foreign aid’, and declared that ‘Africa is an important part of Israel’s foreign policy’. His visit will be to countries with established Israeli diplomatic missions in an attempt to deepen existing relations and lobby countries with existing links to support its AU bid. Israel also has strong support from and investment in South Sudan, and is incrementally developing firm relations with many other African states.

The unabashedly right-wing and racist Lieberman, who advocates for the ethnic cleansing (or ‘transfer’) of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, exemplifies the nature of realpolitik at play. While he gets ready to smile and shake African hands, Israel faces sever

e criticism for its maltreatment of African asylum seekers and undocumented African migrant workers. Its efforts to dump these Africans back on the continent are supported by Uganda and Rwanda, which have agreed to receive the migrants in return for weapons and money.

Israel is

aware that most of the African countries with which it has or is developing diplomatic and economic ties are unlikely to exert the sort of pressure on it that Europe would. As such, it is unsurprising that Lieberman’s visit does not include South Africa, which has been relatively vocal in criticising Israel’s occupation policies. And Lieberman stirred controversy last year when he claimed that Jewish South Africans would be the victim of pogroms due to what he regarded a

s South Africa’s anti-Israel – and anti-Semitic – positions.

In the next few

years Israel is likely to work to strengthen relations on the African continent, making itself attractive with offers of technology exports, a central part of its foreign policy agenda. These links will help Israel to feel less compelled to heed pressure from Europe and the USA, inevitably leading to a more intransigent occupation of Palestinian lands. They will also leverage these links against Arab states that oppose its policies.

Last modified on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 13:50