The more scurrilous a lie, the more impervious it is to fact and reason. Such has been the history of the Israel/apartheid slander, which reached its apogee in 2017 with the release of a report by a United Nations panel. The study, published by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, ignores decades of Middle East history in finding that the region’s only democracy was guilty of racial domination of Palestinians in the manner of White rule over Black people under the former regime in South Africa.
The use of the apartheid analogy has resonated greatly with racial justice protesters in the United States, who have found intersectional solidarity with the pro-Palestinian cause and consequently embraced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement because of its purported connection to the struggle against racial oppression, wherever it occurs. That this false narrative, built on calculated distortion, will do nothing to remedy racial inequality in America has done little to dissuade activists who are determined to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one driven by race, rather than by land and history.
What makes this myopic, race-based view of the Middle East not only misleading but also ironic is the relationship that Israel is steadily building with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. While Israel’s breakthrough peace deals with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have captured the world’s attention and invited a reimagining of the region’s future, the Jewish state’s burgeoning ties with Africa have gone largely unnoticed, with the exception of the recent Sudan agreement.
Since Benjamin Netanyahu in 2016 became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Africa in nearly 30 years, Israeli-African cooperation in areas such as agriculture, economic development, high tech, and military and cyber security have progressed throughout the continent. Israel’s recent opening to the Gulf states has hastened this development, as African countries have come to see Israel as an open and engaged partner, rather than as a nefarious object of the Arab world’s derision. Israel’s lack of imperial or territorial designs in Africa and the easing of pressure from the Arab and Muslim world to shun the Jewish state have enhanced the trust Israel is building with its African partners.
Israel’s areas of technical expertise have inspired field projects in Africa from agriculture to medicine. The combination of Israel’s hard power and soft power has strengthened the Jewish state’s strategic hand, as it has invested economically in Africa and provided arms and military and security training to some of its allies. But Israel’s eagerness to positively engage its allies, expressed through development projects and humanitarian assistance, has come to characterize these burgeoning relationships. One example occurred in February, when B’nai B’rith co-sponsored a conference in Rwanda marking the 25th anniversary of the massacre in that country and the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust; the gathering became a springboard for discussing future Israeli-led humanitarian activities in Rwanda. This positive tenor has largely withstood the controversy generated by the uncertain status of the approximately 40,000 African refugees in Israel, whose futures are a subject of intense debate among the Israeli public.
The emerging story of Israel’s relations with Africa continues to defy international perceptions of the Jewish state, not to mention directly contradict vile caricatures of Israel as a racist and imperialist nation. Deeper engagement by diaspora Jewry in the racial justice cause can and should strengthen relations between Black people and Jews, but for role models, inspiration and a glimpse of a brighter future, both sides need look no further than the growing ties between Israel and Africa.
Eric Fusfield, Esq. has been B’nai B’rith International’s director of legislative affairs since 2003 and deputy director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy since 2007. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University in history; an M.St. in modern Jewish studies from Oxford University; and a J.D./M.A. from American University in law and international affairs. Click here to read more from Eric Fusfield.
B'nai B'rith International has widely respected experts in the fields of: