It is another bad September for Israel in Africa. Sixteen years ago in Durban, Israel suffered a political blow at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances. The conference ended up with a walk out by Israel and the US after the draft declaration equated Zionism to racism.
Similarly, the NGO Forum of the conference was equally critical of Israel. The conference was regarded as a serious drawback against the pro-Israeli forces at the conference.
On 11 September 2017, the organisers of the first Israeli – Africa Summit which was scheduled to take place in Togo in October announced that the conference had been “postponed indefinitely”.
The controversial conference has been very divisive since its announcement, many criticised it for undermining the African Union (AU). Those critical of the conference argue that any pan African political gathering should involve and take queue from the AU not a particular country.
Secondly, African countries reject the idea of legitimizing Israel, hosting a conference of such nature would have certainly legitimised the Israel. Israel has been engaged in an aggressive charm offensive in Africa under the slogans “Israel is returning to Africa”.
It is all about numbers, the 54 African countries matter when it comes to voting at various global political platforms. Israel has already a significant presence outside the government in many countries particularly in East and West Africa. These organisation are tasked with facilitating people-to-people interactions. Moreover, Israel – like many countries – is queuing up to exploit the African economic opportunities. However, the continued atrocities Israel commits in Palestine remain an obstacle to expand in Africa.
The hosting of a pan African summit in a small country, with a long track record of dictatorship and sociopolitical instability, then call it “ Israeli – Africa Summit” is nothing short of arrogance by Israel. Indeed Africa often embraces a bloc position on difficult foreign policy issues; understandably most African countries are too small and weak to tackle big global political issues on their own. Israel is clearly trying to destroy that position.
It wants to exploit that weakness in Africa by courting smaller countries and forcing them to go against the political trend. The summit would have undermined the unity and seriousness of the African Union (AU). The AU is the only platform that can organise a summit of such a nature and magnitude with that kind of a title.
The Africa- Israeli conference in Togo has exposed a certain number of very important factors in the development of African politics. First, the rejection of this summit by most African nations had little to do with the influence of Arab – African relationship, it had a lot to do with a strong solidarity with Palestine. This is important to mention because the rejection of the Israeli – Africa Summit could easily be misinterpreted or credited to wrong political phenomenon.
Morocco’s efforts in discrediting the summit where by and large self-serving. It used the opportunity as a “public relations fanfare as it reenters the AU”. Many African countries remain committed to the struggle of the Palestinians, and it is that which made them assume a position against the summit.
It is common knowledge that the people-to-people relationships between Arabs and Africans have deteriorated over the years due to racism and the treatment of Africans, particularly African refugees and workers. The number of African leaders who were willing to attend the Israeli- Africa Summit also suggests a change even at the government level.
The conference’s postponement is certainly a diplomatic setback for Israel. However what has been surprising is the number of African countries who were willing to travel to Togo for the summit. Besides Nigeria, whose position was muted by the absence of its president, almost all members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had endorsed and were willing to attend the summit. Furthermore, there is already evidence that the disagreements that have occurred during the discussions leading up to the summit have created cracks and mistrust in Africa.
The biggest question is whether this is the last charm offensive attempt by Israel in Africa? If not, how is Africa going to react next time a big country like Israel makes similar attempts? Will the postponement strengthen the AU or are African countries going to begin overtly embracing standalone foreign policies? What will this mean to the AU’s ambition in maintaining a united position on African foreign policy?
The choice of Togo as the host country without consulting the AU was a serious miscalculation by Israel. Togo is going through political challenges of its own. It was political opportunism by Israel, taking advantage of a weak government hoping to be rescued from its own internal political challenge. The Togolese government was hoping to use Israel’s sociopolitical and economic pledges through the summit to stretch its political tenure, pacify political rumblings in the country and weaken the political opposition.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.