Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi
Last month, the Israeli Foreign Ministry announced that it had joined the African Union as an Observer. The move was criticised by many African countries and human rights organisations, who called it a formalisation of the Zionist regime’s crimes against the Palestinians. One reason for this is that its presence in various AU structures might help to blunt the criticism that the continental body regularly makes of Tel Aviv. This is according to Na’eem Jeenah, the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, who added in an interview with IQNA that the African countries’ votes at the UN and other international bodies are often mobilised against Israel and Tel Aviv wants to break that voting bloc. The following is IQNA’s interview with Jeenah.
Q: The African Union recently accepted Israel as an observer member of the union. What is the reason for Israel’s insistence on joining the African Union?
A: Israel has been lobbying for accreditation at the African Union since the body’s formation in 2002. One reason for this is that its presence in various AU structures might help to blunt the criticism that the continental body regularly makes of Israel, its actions and its policies, and to weaken the solidarity that the AU regularly expresses with the Palestinian people.
Consider the strong statement that the AU issued in May 2021 against Israel’s onslaught on Gaza and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem (al-Quds). If Israel were able to speak at that AU meeting, that statement – if it was adopted at all – could have been severely watered down.
Furthermore, Africa has 54 votes in the UN General Assembly, usually has three elected seats to the UN Security Council, and African states participate in various multilateral fora. These votes are often mobilized against Israel. Israel wants to break that voting bloc. Its presence in AU meetings can help to do that.
Q: Some believe that Israel’s economic and investment issues in African countries, especially in the field of military armaments and security, have changed the African Union’s approach. Do you agree with this opinion?
A: We can’t yet say that anything has changed the African Union’s approach. The decision to accredit Israel was made by the Chairperson of the AU Commission, unilaterally and without consulting members states. This despite the fact that member states have, in the past, vehemently opposed Israel’s accreditation. (It is rumoured that the AU Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamet, was pressured to accept Israel by Morocco and Rwanda, encouraged by France.)
However, 12 states have lodged official objections. As a result, in October, the matter will be tabled and debated at the AU’s Executive Council – the council of foreign ministers. We will then be able to gauge what the position of the AU will be.
Having said that, it is correct that a number of African states have become very close to Israel over the past few decades. There are a number of reasons for this. It includes partnerships with Israel in terms of military and security matters; as well as Israel selling weapons and spy software to certain African states.
This includes, for example, the Pegasus software that was used, for example, by Rwanda, a major Israel supporter, to spy on South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa. Some states also co-operate with Israel in terms of intelligence gathering and purchase security hardware and software from Israel. In addition, Israel provides some countries with some agricultural aid. Further, Israel often presents itself to African states as a gateway to the USA. Thus, part of the agreement between the USA and Sudan for the latter to be removed from the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism was that Sudan must normalise relations with Israel.
Q: How effective do you think the role of African immigrants in Israel is in relations between Israel and the African Union?
A: Not really effective. In general, African migrants and refugees are treated terribly in Israel and are victims of vicious racist attacks on an ongoing basis – by members of the Jewish Israeli public as well as Israeli politicians and the government.
Q: What do you think is the status of the Palestinian issue in light of Israel’s presence in the African Union?
A: Thus far the AU has always taken a very pro-Palestinian position and has been very critical of Israel. This might be watered down if Israel’s accreditation is upheld by the Executive Council meeting in October.
Q: How does it assess the future of African-Palestinian relations in light of recent issues?
A: Unfortunately, while at the level of African nations and societies there remains much sympathy with the Palestinian people, many African governments are willing to distance themselves from the Palestinian cause. What makes it worse is that the official Palestinian (Palestinian Authority) relations with African states is generally weak, diplomatic initiatives are weak, and Palestinian lobbying capacity at the AU is weak – even though Palestine is accredited to the AU. – International Quran News Agency
Na’eem Jeenah is the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, a research institute dedicated to studying the Middle East and North Africa and relations between that region and the rest of Africa. He previously worked as Director at the Freedom of Expression Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has taught Political Studies at Witwatersrand University