Africa and Israel, A Unique case of Radical Changes in Foreign Policy, by Arye Oded

, December 31, 2013

Africa Ve’Israel, Yehudiut Vetahapuhot Be’Yehase Hutz shel Israel [Africa and Israel, A Unique case of Radical Changes in Foreign Policy], by Arye Oded, Magnes Press, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2011, (in Hebrew).

Reviewed by Yosef Govrin

In his new work, Ambassador Arye Oded has enriched the historiography of Israel’s foreign policy in general and of its relations with the African states, in particular. He has produced what may be the first comprehensive treatment of Israel’s complicated relations with each of the countries of the African Continent with whom Israel established diplomatic relations from the beginning of the 1960s. These relations began, Oded tells us, in a “honeymoon” atmosphere. The honeymoon ended with the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War saw the deterioration, and eventual rupture, of the relationship. Only in the 1980s and the beginning of the 90s were mutual diplomatic relations restored, and some African states that had never had relations previously also established ties with Israel. At present, Israel maintains diplomatic relations with forty-one African states, a larger number than before the “divorce.”

The author gained rich experience during his diplomatic service (1957–1995) in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign affairs, representing Israel in many of the African states, as well as during his tenure in the Ministry in Jerusalem dealing with subjects connected to these states. At the same time, he also served as senior lecturer on African affairs at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since his retirement from the Foreign Service, Aryeh Oded has served as a Research Fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has authored many scholarly works and several books on the African states.

Africa Ve’Israel is divided into three periods. Firstly, the reader is given a picture of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and the African states, and Israel’s part in the latter’s political, military, agricultural and medical development. We learn how this trajectory helped to strengthen their respective economies and solidify their recently won independence. Israel’s then-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Golda Meir, was the architect of these relations. During her tenure (1956–1966), she traveled to the African continent five times. Meir regarded it as an ideological mission to assist the African states at the dawn of their independence. Israel, still in its infancy, gave what it could, mainly guidance and training, which the African states welcomed with profound appreciation. In turn, Israel was gratified to be acknowledged as a state prepared to extend valuable and diversified assistance to under-developed countries in their first phases of
independence.

The second section covers the period following the Six Day War, which was characterized by a deterioration of relations between Israel and the African states. By the 1970s, only Malawi, Swaziland and Lesotho, of the African states had not cut ties with Israel. The author attributes this rupture to pressure applied by the Arabs to the African states and to the monetary rewards the former used to sweeten the incentive. Additionally, the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist bloc countries presented Israel as a war-monger and an agent of western imperialism, conquering territories from its Arab neighbors. The two cut-offs diverged in nature. The Soviet Union and the communist bloc countries in Eastern Europe (with the exception of Romania) broke off diplomatic relations with Israel immediately after the Six Day War as an expression of solidarity with the Arab states and as a strategic step in the Cold War international arena. Relations between Israel and the African states, deteriorated over a period of many years, and resulted in substantial economic, scientific, and technological costs to the latter. The lesson seems to have been learned, though, since the African states no longer consider relations with Israel and with the Arab states mutually exclusive.

In this vein, part three informs us of the gradual renewal that began in the early 1980s of diplomatic relations between the African states and Israel, and of the establishment of these relations with certain African states for the first time. In Oded’s view, the renewed relations were driven by disappointment over broken promises of economic and financial assistance from the Arab states. Things take time, however. Diplomatic relations between Israel and the African states have not yet returned to their previous peak. This could be related to deep disappointment on Israel’s part regarding the initial rift, or to an ongoing anti-Israel policy followed in the international arena by these same African states. In this context, the author devotes a detailed chapter to comparing the 1960s level of Mashav (Center for International Cooperation) activity in the African states to that of today. The current level of activity is much lower, and may reflect an Israel wary of a renewed disappointment. At the same time, the significant growth in the volume of trade between Israel and the African states points to real potential for cooperation.

Oded concludes with several suggestions for Israeli policy makers: (1) They should take into consideration the history of the African states before they were liberated from colonial regimes and achieved their independence. Only a minority of these states built democracies, the majority of them establishing dictatorial regimes; (2) They should intensify Israel’s public relations and cultural relations with the African states “that are not identical in their contents with the subjects of Israel’s informative and cultural activity in the West”; and (3) They should cultivate Israel’s cooperation with African academic circles, in order to demonstrate that, despite extremist Islamic African charges to the contrary, Israel is not an enemy of Islam.

Africa Ve’Israel constitutes an important source of knowledge for understanding the history of the relationships between Israel and the African states.

 

Dr. Yosef Govrin

Dr. Yosef Govrin joined Israel’s Foreign Ministry in 1953 and served as director of the East European Department and deputy director-general of the Ministry, ambassador to Romania, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna. Since 1996 he has been a Research Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.