Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has launched the Knesset caucus for Israel-Africa relations, an initiative of Likud MK Dr. Avraham Naguisa, an Ethiopian Jew.
Israeli and African relations have an interesting history.
From the beginning of the African states’ liberation from colonial rule in 1957-1960 (mainly British and French, but also Spanish, Portuguese and even German), and at the initiative of then Foreign Minister Golda Meir, the young State of Israel was among the first countries to extend substantial assistance to the newly independent countries and their awakening peoples. This was manifested in every possible field – from agriculture, medicine and defense to such infrastructure projects such as the construction of airports, the establishment of shipping companies, educational and professional training institutions, etc. This activity was largely carried out by government ministries and corporations, together with the Israel Defense Forces and private companies.
Until 1973, some 30 Israeli embassies operated throughout the continent, and hundreds of experts from the Israel Foreign Ministry’s Center for International Cooperation (MASHAV) guided, trained and managed large projects in all these fields.
The turning point in Israel-African relations occurred during the oil crisis of 1973 and the Yom Kippur War, when the OAU bowed to the heavy pressure applied by the Arab League and was forced to pass a resolution recommending that member states sever relations with Israel. The rationale presented by the Arabs was that Israel, by crossing the Suez Canal, had occupied African land.
Some African countries chose to lower the Israeli flag while in practice continuing to maintain relations. However, the large-scale closing of Israeli embassies throughout the continent drastically reduced the Israeli government and MASHAV presence. A number of Israeli interest offices continued to operate in Africa under third-country sponsorship, and the operations of such large corporations as Solel Boneh, Tahal, Motorola Israel continued as well.
The renewal and initiation of new diplomatic relations between Israel and Africa began in the mid-1980’s, parallel to the fluctuations in the Middle East peace process and Israel’s relations with its neighbors. The first countries to renew relations were considered daring and brave, having done so in violation of the OAU’s resolution and challenging the authority of the Arab states who in turn threatened to cut off their aid. Today, Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with 39 of 47 of the countries south of the Sahara and has nine resident embassies on the continent.
As for Entebbe, which the Prime Minister mentioned, our history with Uganda leading up to it is also fascinating:
Amin had a lust for power that prompted him first to align himself with Israel and then to abandon the Jewish state when it refused to provide the arms to satisfy his violent aspirations.
Instead, he turned to Arab states, who were alone in embracing the African dictator — with the exception of the Soviet Union, which courted Amin for a time.
In 1963 he served as a special trainee of the Israel Defense Forces, earning his paratrooper wings. Back then, Amin had not yet begun the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic salvos that later caught the attention of world Jewry.
In January 1971, he seized power from Obote. Initially, Ugandans celebrated the general’s coup — along with Israel, Britain and others, according to historical accounts.
Israel sent technicians, military instructors and engineers to help Uganda, and other Israelis went to the country to do business.
But bilateral relations soon soured.
Amin had military ambitions against Tanzania, where Obote had fled. He asked Israel for money and jet fighters to wage war, but the Jewish state turned down his request.
So Amin went to Libya, where Muammar Gadhafi promised him financial aid. As a sign of his new allegiance, Amin expelled 500 Israelis from Uganda and severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1972.
“Arab victory in the war with Israel is inevitable and Prime Minister of Israel Mrs. Golda Meir’s only recourse is to tuck up her knickers and run away in the direction of New York and Washington,” he once said.
Amin also praised Hitler for his “Final Solution” to the Jewish question.
Along with verbal attacks against the Jewish state, Amin turned violent against Jews in his own country.
Aside from Israelis, Uganda’s self-identified Jews — known as the Abayudaya — live in the country’s east. They are descendants of a group of converts who were swayed by an Old Testament-loving British missionary who conducted mass circumcisions in 1917.
Amin shut down every synagogue in Uganda and beat and imprisoned observant Jews, demoralizing the community.
The maxim of “obey Amin or face the consequences” put Israel in Amin’s crosshairs in late June and early July of 1976.
Frustrated by Israel’s strength after its victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Amin supported a direct attack on its citizens.
Seven terrorists who hijacked Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris in 1976 diverted the plane to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport, keeping the Israeli and Jewish passengers as hostages but freeing the rest.
That set the stage for a stunning July 4 military raid in which Israeli commandos landed at the airport, killed the hijackers, crushed Amin’s troops, destroyed eight Ugandan MIG aircraft and rescued 102 hostages.
The raid took 90 minutes, and there was only one casualty among the soldiers: Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the future Israeli prime minister.
A humiliated Amin took revenge by ordering the killing of a 73-year-old Jewish woman named Dora Bloch, whom he found in a Kampala hospital.
He also threatened to attack Israel if it failed to compensate him for the destruction of the aircraft and the money he spent on the hostages.
Here’s to the prosperity of our respective nations.