Israel wants to exploit the benefits of a potential relationship with Africa. But it does not want Africans to come to Israel.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame met in September 2018 and decided on two practical steps – opening embassies in each other’s countries and starting direct flights between Tel Aviv and Kigali.
But how friendly is Israel towards Africa and its people?
Israel’s relations with Africa
Israel’s Africa policy is a two-pronged strategy.
Firstly to have allies at the United Nations when it comes to the condemnation of Israel by the General Assembly due to Israel’s human rights abuses and the breaking of international law by occupying Palestinian land and expanding colonial settlements.
Israel was the most condemned country by the UN in 2018. Therefore, it needs ‘allies’ to back its ‘injustice’ and ‘crimes’ against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank.
Africa has 54 internationally recognised states – which is a huge landscape from which to find politicians and statesmen who could support Israel’s agenda in the Middle East.
African countries as a majority voted against Israel at the UN.
Take for instance the recent UN resolution against the US move to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and officially move its embassy. Togo was the single African country that voted against this resolution.
The African Union (AU) gives the State of Palestine observer status in the AU – and Israel has no official status.
Therefore, Israel’s interest in Africa is broader than the continent being an economic and business opportunity.
Israel’s problem with Africans
Although Israel diplomatically struggles to get observer status at the African Union and to get the support of African nations at the UN, Israel’s outreach to African states is distinctly less friendly when it comes to African migrants and refugees in Israel.
As of the end of 2018, around 40,000 African migrants live in Israel, according to the Israeli Immigration Authority. They make up only 0.5 percent of Israel’s total population and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch regard most of the African migrants as legitimate asylum seekers and refugees.
However, Israel follows a policy towards African refugees which is unwelcoming and even threatening. Netanyahu has called African migrants “infiltrators”, who have “either the choice to leave the country and take their money or to spend the rest of their life in an Israeli prison”.
Migrants recognised as victims of human trafficking have to give 20 percent of their salaries and their employers another 16 percent to a state fund. The amount is then paid back after the migrants leave the country – a strategy seen by experts as encouraging migrants to leave and “take their money” – as Netanyahu stated.
Interestingly, a similar policy is adopted towards local African Jews who aim to settle in Israel. Despite the fact that Israel opened its borders to thousands of Jews around the world in its early years, including African Jews, it seems that Jews from Africa are not needed anymore.
In the 1950s the objective was to change the demographics of the region in favour of Jews by encouraging Jewish immigrants from all over to world to outnumber Palestinians in what is today Israel and the remaining occupied areas of Palestine.
Now, there is talk about the ‘African menace’ – a term used by Israeli politicians of varying parties when it comes to Africans, regardless of whether they are Jewish or not.
Netanyahu’s words at the Africa-Israel summit in Liberia revealed the wide discrepancy of feeling when it comes to Africa. He told the summit: “I am deeply honoured to be here today and I am grateful for your hospitality.” However, he has also called Africans in Israel “a concrete threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the country”.