You don’t have to look for too long to find manipulative pro-Israel maneuvers at AIPAC’s annual conference. Some quick background research shows how an African president’s speech on the conference’s opening day fit the normal pattern of cynicism and dishonesty.
The controversial president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, traveled to Washington to pay obeisance to Israel. In a 9-minute speech, he told the Israel lobby’s yearly gathering that after a 20-year absence the DR Congo would send an ambassador to Israel; he endorsed the Netanyahu/Trump “peace plan,” and he invited Israel “to increase its diplomatic and economic presence in my country.” As cheers rolled through the audience, he also promised to visit Israel this year.
Tshisekedi’s warmth toward Israel is inexplicable to anyone who knows DR Congo’s recent history. One man, an Israeli citizen named Dan Gertler, has drained that central African nation of billions of dollars. Gertler regularly travels from Africa to his home in Tel Aviv, but so far Israel’s government has done nothing to prosecute him for corruption. At the very least, Israel should have promised Tshisekedi and the Congolese people that it would rein in Gertler in return for the stronger diplomatic ties. So far, silence.
Dan Gertler’s corruption is more than just rumor. In 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on him that prevent him from doing business in America. The Treasury Department said:
Gertler is an international businessman and billionaire who has amassed his fortune through hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of opaque and corrupt mining and oil deals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). . . As a result, between 2010 and 2012 alone, the DRC reportedly lost over $1.36 billion from the underpricing of mining assets. . .
In the United States, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits Americans from bribing foreign individuals and governments, even if our citizens are not put on trial overseas where they make the pay-offs. If Israel does not have equivalent legislation, it should. But meanwhile, Gertler has strong ties to leading Israeli politicians — no surprise for a man worth billions — and the Israeli establishment could informally bring him in line if they wanted. Instead, he continues to sail under the radar in Israel, and of course he was never mentioned at the AIPAC pro-Israel lovefest.
Dan Gertler’s corrupt connection was with Joseph Kabila, the DR Congo’s previous president. In late 2018, Kabila’s handpicked candidate came in a very distant third in the presidential election, so Kabila approached Tshisekedi, who finished second, and handed him the office, despite clear evidence that another candidate, Martin Fayulu, had won decisively. The U.S. and other rich nations protested the stolen election briefly, but then caved in.
Felix Tshisekedi may not himself have joined the conspiracy of mega corruption. What is clear, though, is that he owes his position to Joseph Kabila, and he hasn’t spoken up against it.
What’s disgraceful is that the Israel firsters at AIPAC put a small diplomatic victory ahead of the welfare of 81 million Congolese people. Dan Gertler should be sent to prison for a long time. His looting would be criminal anywhere, but DR Congo is one of the poorest nations on earth, torn for decades by the greatest humanitarian crisis anywhere since the end of World War II. Several billion dollars that could have been used to fight malnutrition, and to promote education and health (including fighting another outbreak of ebola), has instead ended up in Gertler’s secret bank accounts.
In President Tshisekedi’s brief speech to AIPAC, he did say Israel and DR Congo share common goals, including “the fight against corruption and money-laundering.” But it’s not likely that DR Congo’s new ambassador will make a visit to Israel’s attorney-general his first stop in Tel Aviv.