Israel is making a big effort to improve its image and strengthen its diplomatic ties in Africa. Last year, Benjamin Netanyahu was the first Israeli prime minister in decades to visit the continent, and an Africa-Israel Summit is scheduled in the west African nation of Togo this October, which could attract 25 to 30 heads of state.
Israel’s aim is clear: bribe African nations with technology, agricultural help and military aid, in return for diplomatic support at the United Nations and other international organizations.
Tel Aviv’s push will almost certainly fall short. Ever since the 1970s, African nations have publicly supported Palestinian rights, and there is no sign of a change. Just last December, Senegal and Angola voted at the U.N. Security Council to declare Israeli settlements/colonies in the West Bank as illegal. In response, Israel petulantly canceled its aid programs in both countries.
What’s more, setting Palestine aside, Africans are aware that Israeli policies in Africa itself have long contributed to economic looting and support for dictatorships. Israel has just re-arrested a leading Israeli businessman, Beny Steinmetz, in an investigation into money laundering that is apparently connected to his allegedly stealing billions from Guinea over massive iron ore deposits.
But another Israeli billionaire, the shadowy Dan Gertler, is still under the radar. Gertler is at the heart of a gigantic looting scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the world’s poorest nations, once again torn by violence. He apparently flies home to Tel Aviv from DR Congo most weekends, unscathed, even though Israel passed a law 8 years ago outlawing foreign bribery.
Israel’s arms exports to Africa have also contributed to tragedy. The excellent online alternative Israel publication, +972, exposed Tel Aviv’s weapons sales to South Sudan, which is caught up in an awful civil war in which as many as 300,000 people may have died.
Israel’s questionable policies in Africa are not new. Back in 1987, the Israeli academic and writer Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi published his thoroughly researched The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why. Among Hallahmi’s findings was that by the mid-1980s Tel Aviv was the prime military supplier to Mobutu Sese Seko, the dictator of Zaire, as DR Congo was known then, and Israelis also helped trained his secret police. Mobutu’s disastrous 32-year reign is a major reason DR Congo is in such a terrible state today.
Netanyahu told Israel’s ambassadors to Africa earlier this year, “The first interest is to dramatically change the situation regarding African votes at the UN and other international bodies from opposition to support.” To achieve this goal, Israel has a lot of history to overcome.