This Wasn’t In Pan-Africanist Playbook: Israel Will Have ‘Observer Status’ On African Union Affairs

This Wasn’t In Pan-Africanist Playbook: Israel Will Have ‘Observer Status’ On African Union Affairs

Leaders of West Africa's Sahel region -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Mauritania's capital Nouakchott at the G5 Sahel summit, June 30, 2020. The five African countries have formed a joint military force to battle Islamic extremists in the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

Nineteen years after Israel was expelled from the 55-state pan-African alliance under pressure by then-Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, the African Union said it will reinstate Israel as an observer country.

Israel enjoyed observer status in 2002 in the AU predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), before it was ejected by AU member states. Since then, Israeli officials have vehemently tried to regain their seat.

“This is a day to celebrate the Israel-African relations,“ Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said from his office. “This corrects the anomaly that existed for almost two decades and is an important part of strengthening Israeli foreign relations. This will help us strengthen our activities in the continent and in the organization’s member states.”

Israel has relations with 46 African countries and partnerships in areas including trade and aid, according to Lapid’s statement. Israel re-established relations with Guinea in 2016 and Chad in 2019.

Marginalization of African immigrants still persists within Israel’s borders, even as it restores relations with the AU.

In 2018, Israel former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered African refugees seeking asylum to leave Israel due to ongoing crises in sub-Saharan Africa — mainly in Eritrea and Sudan. At the time, there were around 40,000 African asylum seekers in Israel.

Netanyahu described the refugees as “infiltrators” and gave them an ultimatum: accept a one-time payment to relocate to another country or spend the rest of their lives in jail.

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The forced mass deportations never materialized.

Over the past 40 years, Israel has undertaken dramatic rescue efforts to bring the ancient Ethiopian Beta Israel people “home.” About 150,000 people of Ethiopian descent now live in Israel, according to New York Jewish Week. Many in the Ethiopian-Israeli community have complained that the police pick on the Ethiopian youth. Six years ago, a video of policemen beating a young Ethiopian prompted the Israeli government to establish a commission to investigate and deal with racism. It found widespread evidence of racism in Israeli institutions ranging from education to the Israel Defense Forces. 

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South Africa, which has had a checkered past with Israeli relations, vehemently objected to the “unilateral” decision by other AU members to grant Israel AU observer status.

In a strong statement, the continental economic powerhouse, which held the rotating AU presidency in 2020, said “it is horrified by the unjust and unwarranted decision of the AU to grant Israel observer status in the African Union.”

Pan-Africanism emerged in the late 1800s in response to European colonization and exploitation of Africa. Pan-Africanist philosophy held that slavery and colonialism encouraged and depended on negative, unfounded categorizations of the race, culture, and values of African people. These destructive beliefs intensified racism, which pan-Africanism seeks to eliminate.

In December 2016, Israel hosted seven ministers and other top officials from Western African Countries at an agricultural conference. Six months later Netanyahu said,” Israel is returning to Africa in a big way”.