Scorned by Europe, Israel Finds Friends in Africa

Israel’s supposed diplomatic isolation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, as Tel Aviv looks south for new allies. As the Financial Times reports:

When Israel faced a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency last September demanding that it open its undeclared nuclear facilities to UN inspectors, the measure failed to pass. It foundered in part because several African countries — which normally would have voted in lock-step with Arab states — abstained or voted No.

The ballot was just one of many examples of a growing alignment between Israel and sub-Saharan African states: the Jewish state is searching for new allies as its traditionally close ties with Europe cool, and both it and African states face a common threat from radical Islamist groups[…]

African countries want Israeli know-how in defence, cyber security and homeland security at a time when Libya is collapsing and Islamist fighters from Boko Haram to al-Shabaab are on the attack.

Israel has also reached agreement with two unnamed African countries on the voluntary repatriation of some of the 40,000 migrants and refugees from Sudan and Eritrea who crossed into the country from Egypt.

The rise of religious conflict between Christians and Muslims and the continuing growth in Christianity in Africa will likely contribute to a new era in Israel-Africa relations. Also, public opinion in much of Christian Africa tends to be pro-Zionist. Even South Africa’s hard-line anti-Israel policies, which explicitly link the apartheid regime to Israeli settlements, appear to be softening, as the first high-level diplomatic visit in several years took place this month.

One question for the future: will African-Americans and other groups in the African Diaspora in the Americas (like the large and increasingly Pentecostal and evangelical Afro-Brazilian population) follow African opinion? In the 1930s through the 1960s, African Americans, including major civil rights figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Robison, and Adam Clayton Powell, were strongly Zionist—many African Americans participated in fund raising for the Irgun. In the 1960s that began to change under the impact of leaders like Malcolm X, who identified with the Palestinians rather than the Israelis. Nevertheless, a strong reservoir of pro-Israel sentiment continues to exist. African Americans are split on the issue, with around equal percentages faulting each side, but they remain much more supportive than Europeans, who support the Palestinians in much greater numbers than the Israelis. If prominent African religious and political leaders continue to move in a pro-Israel direction, we could also see a more complex political picture in countries like the U.S. and Brazil.

One thing many Israelis would like to see: African nations voting for Israel at the UN, offsetting the shift in European sentiment in the General Assembly and undermining the argument that Zionism is a form of apartheid or of white colonial domination over non-white peoples.

With Israel reaching out to India, China, and to Africa, and with tacit cooperation between Israel and many Sunni states at the highest level ever, it’s getting harder to argue that Israel’s policies on the West Bank are isolating it diplomatically. That doesn’t mean that these policies don’t have a cost, or that Israel doesn’t have good reasons for continuing to support the two state solution, but it does mean that, as so often in the past, those who try to reduce the complexities of the Middle East to simple formulaic narratives miss some of the most important and dynamic trends shaping world events.

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