Israel Has Forgotten Africa

by Gedalyah Reback

Next year, a long-planned referendum in Sudan will likely see the largely black, non-Muslim South separate from the authoritarian regime in the North ruled by Omar Hassan al-Bashir. His regime brutally suppressed a 2003 rebellion in Darfur leading to mass genocide, rape and scorched earth. He also lead the north in a campaign that led to two million deaths in a war with the region’s nearly independent South. What this all means for Israel, I hope I can clarify in a quick manner.

The Netanyahu government has felt the small country’s lack of diplomatic power in quite an acute way. It has tested its ties with major allies in Turkey and the US, and brought unending stress the country’s supporters. Lost in the scramble to contain the damage, jumping from crisis to crisis, little attention has been paid to remedying the issue limited diplomatic power by reversing that situation, and that would include an unconventional approach to the world from the Israeli government.

Israel’s own message, whatever it is, has been invisible. It seems, even prior to Netanyahu’s return to the head of it, Israeli governments have been struggling to provide a coherent message to the world as to what it stands for. Comparing the country’s democratic principles to its traditional and modern enemies are one thing, but that does not provide an explanation for the perceived gaps between Israeli policy and international law. To me, that gap is much more minimal than certain organizations and especially certain governments make it out to be, but the controversy still takes its toll.

What many countries around the world expect of Israel, as evident by the highlighting job the Iranians have done, is to combat threats of genocide and violations of basic human rights by corrupt, tyrannical regimes around the world. Considering the desire to not justify Israel’s founding on the Holocaust (nearly 400,000 Jews lives in the British Mandate for Palestine before WWII), the country and its main demographic have been profoundly impacted by it, been haunted by it, and especially have been motivated by it.

That being said, it represents the cornerstone of a policy shift Israel ought to take, and not merely for the shallow goal of fixing its image. Simultaneously, Africa represents and untapped source of diplomatic power Israeli governments have both long-coveted and predictably neglected. The relationship with South Africa remains strained 16 years after apartheid. Relations with post-genocide state Rwanda are negligible and the relationship with Ethiopia is overtly based on the military. But even prior to all these things, the emerging crisis in southern Sudan marks the point at which things should turn. Israel should go out of its way to become the first country to recognize Southern Sudanese independence and declare its support to prevent a genocidal assault by Northern Sudan on the newly independent country.

To drive the point home that Israel is both a serious and a powerful country, covert and overt security forces, diplomatic connections and economic development are things Israel can, should and probably will have to offer Southern Sudan in a sign to sub-Saharan Africa. There are many more implications and segues to discuss on this topic, but this is in the immediacy, and can offer a positive shift not just for Israelis on the world stage, but also a stand against genocide.

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