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Smart Diplomacy
Bibi Goes to Africa

Prime Minister Netanyahu stopped by Kenya on a tour of four African countries this week, which Bloomberg reports is the first visit by an Israeli Prime Minister to sub-Saharan Africa in 29 years:

Israel has a long history of ties with Africa built on exports of arms and agricultural products, and imports of oil, diamonds and other natural resources.

Alliances unraveled after many African states severed ties to avoid entanglement in the Arab oil embargo following the 1973 Middle East war. Ties have begun to deepen again over the threat of radical Islam and Israel’s outreach beyond its traditional Western allies.

As he builds diplomatic bonds, Netanyahu is more immediately trying to drum up business for Israeli companies during a visit that also takes him to Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda. With a delegation of 70 business executives, the African excursion is part of Netanyahu’s effort to cultivate new growth markets while economies languish in the country’s biggest trade partners, the U.S. and European Union.

Netanyahu wasn’t coy about his lofty long-term ambitions for Israel-Africa relations: “It might take a decade, but we will change the automatic majority [in the UNGA] against Israel.”

Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta was pretty clear about his feeling on the matter too: Failing to engage with Israel “would be like an ostrich burying its head in the sand”, he said, “and we don’t want to be that way.”

Much has been made of Israel’s pivot to Asia, but Africa is an under-appreciated new frontier for Israeli diplomacy. This is so for several reasons:

  1. Many African countries want security cooperation given their problems with radical jihadis.
  2. Israeli technology in agriculture and water management have huge potential in arid sub-Saharan climates.
  3. Arab countries, worried about Iran and less willing to throw money around, are less powerful and less opposed to Israeli diplomacy than they used to be.
  4. The explosive growth of Christianity since the 1960s in sub-Saharan Africa has created a mass constituency for pro-Israel policy (and pro-U.S. as well).
  5. For Israel, there are good reasons to find new friends in international forums and to break its isolation.

With the Arab world in turmoil, the power of the EU declining, and American grand strategy in disarray, there are many opportunities for diplomatic realignments. Netanyahu is smart to take advantage of them.

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  • Ellen

    Thanks for this timely and insightful article. The explosive growth of Christianity in Africa (much of which has been brought about by American missionaries) is one of the most interesting and underreported stories among all the tons of ink spilled on stories related to Israel and its neighbors. Instead of writing pointless and repetitive incantations about the long dead peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, the growth of a pro-Israel constituency in Africa is really worth writing about. Firstly, because it debunks yet another one of the pieces of liberal conventional wisdom that Africans turned against Israel because of the Palestinians or because of their association of Israel with European colonialism. This has always been nonsense.

    The demographic and cultural shift of African countries away from Islam and toward Christianity – not Western style secularism – is the single most important ray of hope for Africa in a long time. Christianity brings morality and social cohesion to African countries desperately in need of it, and innoculates them to a degree from the violent and nihilistic attitudes of Islam. Moreover, the genuine religiosity of African Christians makes them pro-Israel in the same way that believing American Christians are, unlike nonbelieving Europeans who tend to be anti-Israel.

    Secondly, while the oil sheikhs were able to buy African votes in the UN for a long time with their surplus wealth, this brought nothing but corruption of Africa’s elites, and did exactly zero for the healthy development of African societies. Israeli economic and security aid will do more for Africa than any slush fund from the Saudis ever did. The Arabs have no development tips to offer Africa and now have little money to bribe its leadership with either.

    These are the two reasons, as Bibi said, that “Africa is returning to Israel.”

    • solstice

      If worshiping Barney the dinosaur made people more pro-Israel, I’m sure you would post comments lauding the spread of Barney-worship among the goyim. Israel should be supported for the common-sense reason that it holds the clear moral high ground against its Islamic enemies, but there is no reason to encourage even more poverty-inducing superstition in a continent already ravaged by backwardness and religious delusion.

      “Christianity brings morality and social cohesion to African countries desperately in need of it, and innoculates them to a degree from the violent and nihilistic attitudes of Islam. Moreover, the genuine religiosity of African Christians makes them pro-Israel in the same way that believing American Christians are, unlike nonbelieving Europeans who tend to be anti-Israel.”

      Really? If this is true, why are the most devout Africans Christian populations also the ones that suffer the most from corruption, illiteracy, nepotism, and tribalism? Perhaps you should take a trip to the scam capital of the world, Nigeria, and see for yourself how moral the devout Christians are there. And never mind that Europeans were more anti-Semitic when they were more religiously Christian and never mind that modern Europe has merely traded the old religion of Christianity for the new religion of politically correct leftism; anti-Israel sentiment can only be blamed on “nonbelief.”

      • Ellen

        Worshipping Barney the dinosaur would be an accurate metaphor for the infantile pagan belief system of a typical Western liberal or leftist, and these people tend to be the least enthusiastic supporters of Israel. Hence, I would never recommend this form of worship, otherwise known as idol worship, for that reason as well as its manifest stupidity.

        Let’s introduce some facts into this conversation. In Africa today, the most corrupt, illiterate, nepotistic and tribalistic people are either animists or Moslems, not devout Christians, many of whom are valiantly trying to break out of this pattern. The most rapidly developing countries in Africa are those that are predominantly Christian and religiously devout, such as Ethiopia and Ghana and some of the countries in East Africa that Netanyahu just visited.

        The Christian anti-Semitism that people like you constantly think of, like Pavlov’s dog, when you hear the word “religion” was uniquely a product of Europe and the Arab world. Some of Arab Christian anti-Semitism also came from European influence, while some came from Moslem influence. African Christians today are not infected by this hatred with the prominent exception of Bishop Tutu, who is a card carrying leftist and has spent much of his adult life with Western leftists.

        As for poverty-inducing superstition, you need look no further than the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, whom you probably voted for, with its mindless repetition of slogans such as “Yes, we can” and “We are the change that we have been waiting for.” People who support a presidential candidate with no track record of having every done anything beyond invent 3rd grade slogans of that sort, are encouraging a poverty-inducing superstition worse than any religion I am aware of.

        • solstice

          Barney-worship is infantile and manifestly stupid but believing in a 6,000 year earth, a talking bush, a man living inside a whale, a virgin birth, resurrections, an invisible daddy, and miracles is not? These are the deeply-held convictions of the devout pro-Israel Christians whom you praise. Even world-class archaeologists from your beloved Israel have conceded that the biblical exodus story is fictional and that the Jews were never enslaved in Egypt. In light of this, what explains belief in the Bible other than infantilism and manifest stupidity? And if idol worship is to blame for lackluster support for Israel, why do the most enthusiastic supporters of Israel include idol worshiping Indian Hindus?

          If you have observed Christians in sub-Saharan Africa (as I have), you would know how exploitative, shallow, and cruel are the varieties of Christianity practiced there. African church congregants tend to be impoverished, uneducated people incapable of reading the Bible (as Christians were for the vast majority of European history) who must still allocate large portions of their income to their often obscenely wealthy preachers. As in medieval Europe, belief in witchcraft is widespread, and accused witches and sorcerers are regularly tortured and lynched in the name of Christianity. Overwhelming emphasis tends to be placed on the miraculous healing stories in the New Testament as well as the entertainment value of church services. Belief in faith healing exceeds belief in modern medicine by far. Even the economically growing African countries you cite are highly corrupt, kleptocratic, and steeped in superstition and ignorance.

          It therefore seems to me that these dominant traits of African Christianity should be actively discouraged rather than encouraged.

          • Ellen

            You are wrong about archeological finds in Israel. Most of the recent finds support the Biblical narrative, including the golden calf episode. I have worked with, not just observed, professional people from Ethiopia and have a very different view of them and the strength of their national culture and religion than you do. Let us just say that people see what they want to see and disregard the rest.

            Apropos of that, when I was reading your line about economically growing African countries that are highly corrupt, kleptocratic and seeped in superstition, for a moment there I thought I was a reading another tirade about the European Union, and why Britain needs to get out of it. Oops.

            And as far as miraculous healing stories, nothing could be more preposterous than ascribing these qualities to Barack Obama in his 2008 campaign (remember that line), along with receding oceans and all that claptrap. Look in the mirror and consider what sort of superstition mongers and corruption cases you vote for on a regular basis here. That includes Mrs. Not Indictable Hillary Clinton.

          • solstice

            Can you cite a *reputable source to support your claim that modern archaeology supports the biblical exodus account? Here are three recent sources (including two right-wing Israeli media sources) that back my assertion that the biblical exodus account is a fairy tale:

            http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4795318,00.html
            http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-Exodus-Does-archaeology-have-a-say-348464
            http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_Exodus

            Also, I happen to share your disdain for political correct leftism, the Democratic party, and the EU, so I’m not sure where these accusations of my superstition are coming from.

          • Ellen

            There was an item on today’s news supporting my point of view. Nonetheless, I never engage in arguments about archeological finds to prove or disprove the Jewish faith. I also do not argue about discoveries of bones here or there to prove or disprove the theory of evolution. I spent time in graduate school doing that and realized its value is close to nothing.

            Faith is not based on comparing my discovery of a miniature golden calf to your discovery of a pottery shard in some long forgotten gravel pit. Only pointy-headed academics of the sort who devised Obama’s disastrous foreign policy believe that this is the real issue. Does your belief in the value of democracy come from a piece of pottery? Of course not. There is no factual evidence that in the long run democracy is a better system than enlightened monarchy that Plato supported. You and others support democracy because of your faith in it, which comes from education, respect for your teachers, personal experience, etc. It has nothing to do with pieces of flotsam and jetsam discovered by archeologists amidst the shifting sands of time.

  • JR

    I said it before and I will say it again, Israeli water and agriculture tech carries enormous potential not just for Africa, but for largely desert countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This is a strategic export and Bibi is doing a right thing banging that particular drum. The idea that some poor semi-starving farmer in Africa will reject help from Israel due to Palestinian conflict was always pure BS.

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