On 20th March, 2018, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted by Times of Israel saying, “we would be faced with . . . severe attacks by Sinai terrorists, and something much worse, a flood of illegal migrants from Africa.” Netanyahu’s comments came after Israel decided to deport 40,000 African migrants from the country. In 2014, Israel raised a 242 kilometre electronic fence to keep away illegal migration. In April, Netanyahu cancelled a deal between Israel and the United Nations to resettle 16,250 African migrants in various European countries. The deal stated that for every asylum seeker the UN took to a European country, Israel would keep one migrant.

Israel’s involvement in Africa has been nothing but disastrous. During the Apartheid regime in South Africa, the country was accused of denouncing Apartheid, but it privately cultivated relations with Apartheid South Africa in secret. There are numerous allegations of Israeli cooperation with the South African apartheid regime which have been documented. According to The Guardian, “Israel was South Africa’s principal and most dependable arms dealer. . . It even offered to sell the South African regime nuclear weapons.” Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa said, “Israel’s arms supplies helped to prolong the apartheid regime’s rule and to survive international sanctions.”

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South Africa and Palestine have an affinity because of the similar history and experiences of black South Africans and the Palestinians

In his address to the leaders of the member states of the Economic West African States (ECOWAS) on June 4, last year, Netanyahu said, “I come here as an expression of a simple truth: Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel.” While Israel is coming to Africa, the larger question is what is Israel’s attitude to Africans within its country? Unfortunately, African leaders are likely not to ask questions that would push for the interest of their people. The treatment and discrimination of Africans in Israel contradicts Netanyahu’s statement: “Africa and Israel share a natural affinity. . . Our people too suffered the indignity of bondage and slavery. . .”

Israel push for African Union observer status

Israel is currently seeking to be an African Union observer, getting support from Ghana and Kenya among other countries. In a UN General Assembly vote on December 22, 2017 on the status of Jerusalem, Kenya supported Israel while countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa supported the Palestinians. As an AU observer, Israel will have the privilege of addressing the AU, thus pushing its agenda, expand its diplomatic involvement in Africa.  The support from Ghana has come as a shock to many Africans, including prominent South African writer Zukiswa Wanner.

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On her Facebook page, Zukiswa wrote: “Can we just shut down as a continent for a while please? Let’s discuss as an African family the idea of Ghana supporting Israel’s AU bid. . . as though the fact that our stupid governments couldn’t even fund the building of their own headquarters in Addis isn’t problematic enough.”

Eritreans protesting outside the Eritrean embassy in Ramat Gan, Israel, May 25, 2012. Photo: Moti Milrod

While Israel’s history on the continent is muddied, including installing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in power, Israel has always sought ways to neutralise Arab influence on the continent. Israel was an observer member until 2002 when the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was dissolved. With pressure from Libya’s former president Muammar Gaddafi, Israel lost its status as an observer member. Palestine was given observer member status in 2013, which complicates Israel push to also become a member.

In 2016, Ethiopia expressed its support for Israel to re-join the AU as an observer. In 2017, Netanyahu visited Africa in a number of occasions pushing for support for Israel to become an observer member. With Ghana’s support for Israel, Zukiswa rightly asked, “seriously who bewitched African leaders?”