(Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Netanyahu Africa visit

South Africa’s attempts to crush an Israel-African summit have failed as the continent looks to Israel for opportunities. 

By: Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is becoming increasingly anxious that African nations are ignoring its demand to boycott the forthcoming Africa-Israel Summit, a four-day event in Togo that begins on October 23 — and a key component of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bid to “to bring Israel back to Africa in a big way.”

A senior South African Jewish official told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that the demand was being orchestrated by extremist factions within the ANC. The call to boycott the summit was “clearly at odds with the rest of the continent, including South Africa’s immediate neighbors, who are seeing many opportunities to engage with Israel and are welcoming the chance,” the official observed.

Mozambique and Botswana — just two of the countries bordering South Africa — have intensified cooperation with Israel in water management and agriculture over the last two years. At a recent meeting with Israeli Ambassador Gershon Kedar, Botswanan Agriculture Minister Patrick Ralotsia enthusiastically described Israel as a nation where “they produce and feed themselves and even feed other countries. Every drop of water counts in Israel.”

Last Friday, South Africa’s ambassador to Lebanon — who also represents the country in its dealings with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad — confirmed that South Africa would boycott the summit.

No One’s Buying South Africa’s Rhetoric

Sean Benfeldt, the South African envoy, slammed the event as a step to “normalize” Africa’s relations with what he labelled an “occupation state.” Benfeldt’s comments echoed the concerns expressed in a recent internal ANC document which stated, “We cannot turn a blind on Israeli efforts to galvanize support from Africa and elsewhere with a view to undermine the Palestinian cause. As observed in 2016 President (sic) Netanyahu visited a number of African countries to garner support for its foreign policy towards Palestine.”

But the South African insistence that Israel is cynically using the summit to garner the support of African countries for a prolonged “occupation” appears to be wearing thin. “Generally, South Africa’s power on the continent has been lessening in the diplomatic sphere,” the South African Jewish official said. “It’s likely that despite the aggressive rhetoric, South Africa lacks the diplomatic capital or domestic focus to really harm the upcoming summit in any discernible way.”

Netanyahu has visited Africa on two occasions recently — a July 2016 tour of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia and a June 2017 speech to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Liberia, where he offered — in the words of the South African newspaper The Citizen — “water supplies and agriculture technology from Israel to Africa’s leaders, promising to liberate their countries from drought and food scarcity.”

The same paper subtly pointed out that there would be no diplomatic disadvantages in boosting ties with Israel. “Critics say Israel’s generosity comes at a price,” the paper reported. “Israeli technology would solve Africa’s most urgent issues — as long as African nations opposed UN resolutions critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

On August 6, Netanyahu said at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé was resisting pressure to cancel the summit, which will be attended by around 25 African states. “These pressures are the best testimony to the success of our policy, of Israel’s presence in Africa,” Netanyahu noted.

In addition to South Africa, most of the continent’s Arab nations will also boycott the summit — in keeping with the long-standing policy of the Arab League — among them Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and Tunisia.