The bumpy path of building relations between Africa and Israel
By Jonathan Feldstein
I just returned home to Israel after an extraordinary 10-day trip in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, a massive country in central Africa. I had always wanted to visit Africa but until several months ago, Congo was not on my top ten list, or even on my radar at all. To give you an idea of its size, it covers a land area larger than Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway combined.
I visited in the context of my work as President of the Genesis 123 Foundation which builds bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique, and meaningful. Most Israeli Jews like me who engage in building bridges between Jews and Christians do so in North America, mostly due to the commonality of language and Judeo-Christian culture.
Part of our outreach is however directed south. Through managing an incredible WhatsApp group of Christians throughout Africa, ‘Africa Praying for Israel’, I have built strong relationships and deep friendships. I have experienced genuine love and support for Israel and the Jewish people, often from people for whom I am the first Jew they have ever met, albeit in most cases virtually.
Congo is unique. It’s the second largest country in Africa in size, the fourth largest in terms of population, and it’s 90% Christian. As a Christian nation whose president, Félix Tshisekedi, is both a devout Christian and ardent Zionist, support and love for Israel is palpable from the top down. It is why I visited when I did. President Tshisekedi served as head of the African Union where he advocated for Israel to return to the AU as an observer, meeting fierce resistance from Islamic and antisemitic countries.
My visit took place a week before the AU vote on Israel’s status, hosted by Congo Bless Israel. We were received by the Senate President, and dozens of governmental, ministerial, religious, and business leaders. Throughout the trip, everywhere I went, I experienced overwhelming love and support for Israel and the Jewish people.
Our purpose was to widen and deepen relationships, support President Tshisekedi and the other Congolese and African leaders supporting Israel, and pray and advocate for Israel in the AU, raising Congo as an example not just for Africa but the world.
It is not to be taken for granted that throughout my visit, I walked openly as an Orthodox Jew everywhere. It is common when traveling in (many) parts of the world where Jews are not as welcome, or where it is outright dangerous, for Jewish men to hide their identity by covering up their kippah (Jewish skullcap) with a baseball hat, and removing or hiding other religious symbols. That’s hard for non-Jews who love Israel to understand. Throughout Kinshasa, complete strangers came up to me multiple times, greeting me with “Shalom,” telling me how they love Israel and asking to take a selfie. Amazingly, people sell Israeli flags on the street alongside the Congolese flag. It is something I had never previously experienced and it wouldn’t be happening if the love wasn’t sincere and that it was not good for business. Afterall, people would not pay money for a flag unless there was some love for that country.
Israel and the Jewish people have a long history in Africa from Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, and Solomon, to more recent expressions of support for meaningful relations from Theodor Herzl, Golda Meir, and massive amounts of Israeli support for many of the newly independent nations in Africa, emerging from colonialism within years of Israel’s declaring independence.
It was this passage of Theodore Herzl, the father of political Zionism, that so later inspired Golda Meir to emerged as the builder of bridges between Africa and Israel:
“There is still one other question arising out of the disaster of nations which remains unsolved to this day, and whose profound tragedy, only a Jew can comprehend. This is the African question. Just call to mind all those terrible episodes of the slave trade, of human beings who, merely because they were black, were stolen like cattle, taken prisoner, captured and sold. Their children grew up in strange lands, the objects of contempt and hostility because their complexions were different. I am not ashamed to say, that once I have witnessed the redemption of the Jews, my people, I wish also to assist in the redemption of the Africans.”
Foundations were long ago established, and despite rocky interludes, the recent establishment of diplomatic relationships with Morocco, Chad, and Sudan are welcome developments.
Many Congolese believe not only that Israel has an important role to play in Congo and that Congo needs and wants to have an expansive relationship with Israel, but also that part of the reason Congo is “cursed” as a poor and largely undeveloped nation, rests on Congo breaking relations with Israel following Arab League pressure in the 1970s.
On one hand, Congo is so big and abundant with resources, yet these are largely undeveloped, the lack of basic infrastructure is jarring, and there are provinces with millions having virtually no fresh water or electricity. Poverty is widespread. People refer to “Rich Congo, Poor Congolese.” Nevertheless, Congo is a beautiful, colorful, and lively nation. There’s a great sense of national pride evident by flags being sold on street corners (not just around Independence Day), to singing joyful songs about their country as part of church worship services.
Congo is an important leader in Africa, and ally of Israel. There’s a sense that the time is ripe for relations to blossom. People confided in me that the heavy presence of Chinese, Indians, Pakistanis, and Lebanese in their country were more there to reap from Congo’s mineral wealth than to invest. Israel on the other hand, brings resources that will build Congo, not rape it. Israel would be well served to reopen its embassy in Kinshasa, where one in five Congolese live.
During my visit, as part of our wider “Africa Praying for Israel” initiative, I hosted a virtual Africa-wide prayer event, regarding Israel’s status as an AU observer member. Dozens participated from nations throughout Africa, offering fervent prayers each from their local perspective and in several languages reflecting their former western colonizers.
Much of the prayers focused on blessing Israel and being blessed. Relating to the diplomatic vote at the AU, one pastor noted that “Blessings come from blessing Israel” and referred to Genesis 12:3 as “God’s foreign policy statement.”
Participants from South Africa and Nigeria expressed sadness and repented from their nations’ taking the lead in opposing Israel. They prayed for God to forgive their leaders, for not understanding the truth, for wisdom for African leadership and governments, and to remove the stain of those that label Israel an Apartheid state.
Since the leadership of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Israel’s status in the AU has been a battle. It is a battle that persists. At the upcoming AU conference in February, they are set to vote on a wide agenda of items including Israel’s status. Prayers are encouraged and can be sent to Gen123Fdn@gmail.com to be brought to the Western Wall as well.
EPILOGUE FROM THE EDITOR
David E. Kaplan writes:
It was not to be. This article was written only days before the AU conference opened on the 18 February in Addis Abiba. Regrettably, even with all the prayers for good, evil prevailed when due to the grotesque opposition of South Africa and Algeria to Israel’s presence, the Jewish state’s delegation of observers were physically expelled from the opening ceremony.
Jews again are being thrown out! We have seen this before; now in Africa! Shame!
A video shows the Israeli delegation, led by the Deputy Director General for Africa at the Foreign Ministry, Sharon Bar-Li, unhappily leaving the conference hall after several minutes of agitated discussion. Responding to the incident, Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat said:
“Israel takes seriously the incident in which the Congresswoman for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union hall despite her access badge accredited observer status. It is sad to see the African Union being taken hostage by a small number of extremist countries such as Algeria and South Africa, driven by hatred and controlled by Iran.”
The ambassador added:
“We ask African countries to oppose these actions that damage the organization of the African Union itself and the entire continent.”
When Israel was granted observer status in 2021, it was said at the time that the new status could enable Israel and the AU to forge stronger cooperation on various aspects, including the fight against the coronavirus and the prevention “of the spread of extremist terrorism” on the African continent. What happened may not be good for Israel, but for sure, it is far less good for Africa. There is so much that Israel can contribute to Africa. In the spirit of Herzl and Golda, Israeli is ready and willing as it showed being one of the first delegations to assist in the devastating earthquake in Turkey, a country too that has had a rocky relationship with Israel in recent years.
What shabbily occurred now at the AU conference in Ethiopia is a harsh reminder why Israel has rescued most of the Jewish community there and brought them safely “home” – to Israel.
When it comes to building bridges between Africa and Israel, it appears a lot more needs to be done – including, in the words of Jonathan Feldstein – a lot more praying!
About the writer:
Jonathan Feldstein - President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).