(Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Isaac Herzog

The president stressed the importance of Israel’s relations with nations across Africa in a meeting with the three new ambassadors from Equatorial Guinea, Burundi and Eswatini.

By Etgar Lefkovitz, JNS

Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday thanked the incoming ambassadors of three African countries for their diplomatic support in thwarting a recent effort to oust Israel from the African Union amid its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The remarks come just weeks after Israel quashed an effort by South Africa and Algeria to deprive it of observer status in the African Union amid a burst of faith-based diplomacy on the continent.

The president stressed the importance of Israel’s relations with nations across Africa in a meeting with the three new ambassadors, from Equatorial Guinea, Burundi and Eswatini, who, along with ambassadors from Paraguay and Georgia, all submitted their credentials to the president in a joint morning ceremony at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“We believe in Africa. We love Africa,” Herzog told the ambassadors. “And we see it as a continent that is very close to our hearts.”

He expressed his particular thanks to the Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea, Eustaquio Nseng Esono, for his government’s support at the African Union summit.

“It was extremely important to Israel, extremely,” Herzog told the ambassador in his first publicized remarks in connection with the back-door diplomacy that Israeli leaders, diplomats and faith-based organizations carried out this winter.

Esono replied, “My president opposed radically the position to condemn Israel at the African Union, and proposed to create a commission to see for themselves instead of taking others’ opinions. This proposal was not adopted but there were others who joined us in opposing condemnation of Israel.”

Israel prevails with African allies

South Africa and Algeria had also planned to urge the union’s 55 member states to cut off relations with Israel and to introduce a proposal that would declare Israel guilty of genocide for its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The initiative to oust Israel from the union, as well as the effort to have the Union cut off relations with Israel and accuse it of genocide, all failed in a February vote at the organization’s annual conference in Ethiopia, as a coalition of African states formed to oppose the move.

Israel was granted observer status in 2021 after a two-decade struggle to regain entry to the organization dating back to the dissolution of the union’s precursor, the Organization of African Unity.

African Union observer members include China, Greece, Kuwait, Mexico, “Palestine,” the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The status grants a country the ability to participate in the organization’s activities.

The torpedoed anti-Israel effort came a year after a senior Israeli diplomat was unceremoniously removed from the African Union’s annual summit amid a row over the country’s observer status. At the time, Jerusalem blamed the incident on South Africa and Algeria, saying that they were holding the union hostage, driven by both hate and Iranian influence.

The diplomatic battle for African support comes at a critical time when South Africa, which took Israel to the U.N.’s International Court of Justice on genocide charges in the wake of the war against Hamas in Gaza, has emerged as one of the most outspoken countries against Israel in the world.

Faith-based diplomacy in Africa

Meanwhile, a major parliamentary and diplomatic push is underway in Liberia to open an embassy in Jerusalem this year, restoring a bilateral relationship rooted in the birth of the Jewish state and that would propel African-Israeli ties to a historic first.

The faith-based initiative, which comes at a time of a major Israeli diplomatic outreach to the continent, would fulfill a 2023 pledge by the predominantly Christian West African nation to reopen its embassy in Israel. It was shuttered a half-century ago amid a cutoff in ties due to African political interests and alignments with the Arab world.

Before the Hamas attack in October, three other African countries—Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Malawi—along with Paraguay, had also announced their intention to move their embassies to Jerusalem. The five-month-old war has delayed their openings, although some of the countries are still expected to do so later this year.