Alwaght- During the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday, a rare diplomatic incident took place, leaving the world news and social media platforms ablaze. The Israeli envoy was expelled from the summit. Reports suggest that Israeli diplomats claimed they were accredited and had authorization to attend the meeting, but when it turned out that they did not have valid documents, they were expelled in a humiliating way by the security.
The failure to gain the observer status of the AU comes while the Israeli leaders were optimistic that thanks to normalization of relations with two Arab-African states of Sudan and Morocco, resuming ties with Guinea and Chad, and also having diplomatic relations with 46 out of 54 African states would help them easily get the green light to become an observer member in this African bloc. For the first time, on July 22, 2020, Israeli foreign ministry stated that its ambassador to Ethiopia Aleligne Admasu handed her credential as the envoy of Israel as the observer member. The Israeli celebration did not lost long as a number of members states, including Algeria, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Libya, Mauritania, and Tunisia, opposed the granting it observership.
There is no doubt that the humiliating expulsion of Tel Aviv in the next few days will take a center stage in anti-Netanyahu criticism on Israeli social media platforms and news outlets. Also, it will be labeled an Israeli diplomatic fiasco by the regional social media users and news platforms as a sequel to Israeli failure to get the Arab public favor during the Qatar World Cup. Actually, it can be maintained that the Israeli gamesmanship to change an international atmosphere laden with criticism against Netanyahu cabinet’s hard-line and criminal policies has ended in disgraceful failure to Tel Aviv’s political prestige.
Now here is a question: Why are African countries opposed to largely ceremonial and scarecrow-style Israeli observership in the AU despite having diplomatic relations with Israel and are under the American pressures and despite betrayal of Palestinian cause by some Arab regimes?
The relations between the Israeli regime and African countries witnessed a new chapter in recent years, and development took place under the leadership of Netanyahu. In 2016, Netanyahu became the first Israeli PM to visit several African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. He also attended the inauguration of the Nairobi president in 2017.
The Israeli push to boost ties with Africa is driven by several reasons. The most immediate one is the Periphery doctrine which requires Tel Aviv to make allies for exit from historical regional isolation. According to this doctrine which guided the Israeli policy under PM David Ben-Gurion, Israeli has to build ties with its periphery countries like Turkey and African states due to its conflict with the Arab countries. The Israelis also value easing international pressures diplomatically and legally in the internal blocs, including the AU. For example, in 2018, out of 54 UN General Assembly seats that belong to African Union member states, only seven African countries (Cape Verde, Eritrea, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Rwanda, and South Sudan) supported the US-drafted resolution condemning Hamas’ attacks on the occupied territories, while Tel Aviv has been repeatedly condemned by UN resolutions in recent years.
Also economic benefits, land leasing, export market, especially military weapons, countering the influence of Palestinian groups or supporters of Palestine, especially Hamas in Africa, and attracting African Jews are other reasons for Israel’s scrupulous attention to Africa.
However, African countries are not much of fans of Israel influence and meddling in their continent’s affairs. On the one hand, the occupational and aggressive nature of Israel is reminiscent of the not-so-distant days of Western colonization in Africa where systemic crimes and discrimination against the original owners of the land made history of the continent. For example in 1975, 19 African states voted in favor of the UN resolution 3379 that “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” Also a US poll about the voting approaches of countries showed in 2019 that African states have been opposed to Israel in the Palestinian case in 90 percent of the cases. Furthermore, South Africa and Namibia have jointly called on the UN to recognize Israel as an “apartheid regime”, with many African thinkers and activists signing Global South Response petition that wants an end to the occupation of Palestine by the Israeli regime.
Aware of this big challenge with Africa, the Israeli leaders try to draw parallels between Israel and Africa by highlighting the vague Holocaust account. In 2016, for example, Netanyahu during visit to a Rwanda genocide memorial said that “my people know the pain of genocide, as well.... This is a unique bond that neither one of our peoples would preferred to have.”
Despite these political shows by the Israelis, the AU, contrary to its chilly behavior with Tel Aviv, accepted Palestine as the observer state in 2013, demonstrating that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the African scale leans toward Palestine.
On the other hand, the African states are worried about Israeli decisive policies in Africa as Tel Aviv has records of such policies. For instance, Israel has always been one of suspects of arms delivery to Africa flash points. In Tigray desert, the Israelis supported Moroccan sovereignty over the region. Therefore, the humiliation of the Israeli envoy at AU summit explains that despite Tel Aviv’s efforts to embellish the normalization with some African states, Africa still keeps its concerns about Israeli destabilizing and meddlesome role.