Africa, mysterious and mostly unknown to the West was called the “Dark Continent” in the late 1800s. In fact, many Jews found beacons of light in African nations.

Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Rhodesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Congo and Ivory Coast had Jewish populations, some dating back centuries, largely unknown in the diaspora but clinging to an ancient faith.

Some migrated from the really dark corners of entrenched anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe.

Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, had a thriving Jewish population in Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo where Jews from Lithuania migrated in the 1800s. A close friend of mine recently showed me a movie of children in the Bulawayo synagogue marching with stars of David embroidered on their shirts singing songs about Palestine in the 1940s.

I was in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in the 1950s where large cities like Meknes, Fez, Casablanca. Rabat, Marrakesh, Oran and Djerba, had prominent synagogues, attended by thousands and local shops sold menorahs, candelabras and religious clothing.

When the Arabs declared war on the nascent Jewish State, Arab governments in Africa sponsored harassment of their Jewish populations and a large exodus of Jews began. Most of the small number who remained fled after the Six Day War of 1967. In many non-Arab and non-Muslim countries, decolonization unfortunately heralded coups, revolutions and tribal wars, prompting a Jewish exodus from the continent.

In the early years of decolonization, Israel reached out with targeted aid programs to what became known as the “emerging continent.”  But when in the wake of the 1973 war OPEC threatened African states with economic punishment if they did not follow orders to isolate Israel, most fell in line, severing or sharply curtailing relations with Israel. Indeed, African nations joined in the anti-Israel fulminations at the United Nations.

From 1984-1988 Benjamin Netanyahu, now Israel’s Prime Minister, was his nation’s Representative to the United Nations. During his tenure he met many representatives from Africa ex officio and established cordial relations with some. One of his goals was to reestablish relations with African nations by offering agricultural, technical, medical and scientific cooperation. And he has been overwhelmingly successful.

Israeli involvement in Africa has been transformational aiding in control of epidemics, treatments for infectious diseases, crop management with innovative irrigation, water purification, computer education–the list is endless. Israel has improved millions of lives in virtually every nation in Africa.

African students travel to Israel to learn new modalities and technology and Israeli experts assist on site in building and maintaining facilities.

11 diplomats from seven African countries in Jerusalem guided by Zev Orenstein of the City of David Archeological Park

Diplomatic relations with more than forty sub-Saharan nations have improved dramatically, including with Muslim countries. In 2016 Muslim religious leaders and diplomats from Africa travelled to Israel to hold meetings with their Israeli counterparts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia during the first week of July 2016, where he met with leaders of seven African countries at a summit in Uganda to discuss cooperation in the counter-terrorism, energy, agriculture, and water technology sectors.

One can but imagine the feelings of the Prime Minister when he landed at Entebbe airport in Uganda where his brother Yonatan was killed on July 4, 1976 leading the raid to free hostages on Air France Flight 139.

This past June the Prime Minister was greeted by the leaders of Liberia, Gambia and leaders of the Economic Community of West African States. At the meeting Netanyahu stressed that a renewal of ties should be accompanied by support for the Jewish state in international organizations and in the United Nations. He told journalists: “The purpose of this trip is to dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the UN and international bodies.”

This month, the Prime Minister continues his quest with a visit to Togo to attend an African-Israel summit with leaders of 25 African nations to discuss continuing cooperation in technology and development.

Netanyahu visits Uganda

Well done! Shalom Africa. Karibu Uyahudi (Welcome Israel in Swahili)

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