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FROM JERUSALEM TO THE LION OF JUDAH AND BEYONDISRAEL'S FOREIGN POLICY IN EAST AFRICA
By Steven Carol
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Steven Carol
All right reserved.
In examining Israeli foreign policy towards East Africa, it first becomes necessary to assess the motives that went into the making of this connection. Each of the two parties had its own reasons for desiring such a bond.
Israel's motives for extending its contacts and assistance to East Africa were a mixture of self-interest and altruism, of pragmatism and idealism. As has been mentioned, Israel's basic objective was national survival and international recognition. East Africa's geographical location and political importance was crucial for Israel and its contacts with the new nations of Africa and Asia, the linchpin in its new policy advocated after the 1956 Sinai Campaign. By the 1960s Israel's policy of providing assistance to the East African states might have been also motivated in part by the desire to demonstrate to the United States Israel's serviceability as a vehicle for containing the growth of communist influence within selected areas of the developing world, including the Red Sea–East African littoral (coastal region). After the 1967 Six-Day War, it was precisely this link that helped convince many African leaders to shift policies and contacts with Israel.
There is yet another relevant motive behind Israel's foreign policy towards East Africa, namely the sense of messianic mission. It is a deep, more emotional but just as real motivation which can be found in a prophetic passage from the novel Altneuland ("Old-New Land") written in 1898, by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. The novel's hero, Professor Steineck, is made to say:
There is one more problem of racial suffering which has remained without solution. Only a Jew can fully understand that problem in all its horror: I refer to the Negro problem. Do not laugh. Consider all the cruelty of the slave trade. Human beings being kidnapped and sold because of the color of their skin. Their descendants growing up in a foreign environment. Hated and despised because of their different skin. I am not ashamed to say, even at the risk of being ridiculed, that now that I have witnessed the renaissance of the Jews, I should like to pave the way for the renaissance of the Negroes. That is why I am engaged on the development of Africa.
Throughout the centuries of dispersion, Jews have maintained an extraordinary bond with the Bible, a belief in the concept of the Chosen People and a vision of a unique role in the messianic era to unfold. When the rebirth of Israel as a sovereign state was achieved, the age-old idea of its special role was affirmed with renewed vigor. It also became a matter of policy significance, especially towards Africa. There was also the hope that Israel could strengthen ties with the Christian populations of East Africa, which felt spiritually connected to the Holy Land.
One can best illustrate Israel's "national spirit" by the writings of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. He constantly referred to the teachings of the Biblical prophets, the ethical norms bequeathed to mankind and Israel's mission. The "vision of Messianic Redemption," he wrote in 1957, is "the central feature of the uniqueness of the Jewish people." That vision "has prepared and fitted us to be a light to the nations." Ben-Gurion was quoting from Isaiah 49:6, "... I will also give thee [Israel] for a light to the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth." That vision also imposed "the duty of being a model people and building a model state." Soon after independence, in a philosophic guide to foreign policy, Israel Among the Nations, Ben-Gurion stated:
A universal attachment to social and international justice is... engraved deeply upon the nation's soul. The passion of our Prophets was launched against all violence, usurpation, oppression and lawlessness in human and in international affairs. The Prophet Isaiah was one of the first to foretell the social revolution.
Various explanations have been offered for the themes of messianism and uniqueness. The most plausible is that Ben-Gurion had conscious, tangible policy aims; to make Jews the world over proud of Israel's survival. Hence, Ben-Gurion's constant admonition to his people to make Israel "a model state." The fear in Ben-Gurion's view was that Israel could lapse into the category of another Levantine state; and who then, Jews or Gentiles, would care about its fate?
The policy consequences of this aspect of Jewishness are difficult to measure, but in Israel's policy towards East Africa, from the late 1950s, participants perceived a link. Of course, vital Israel interests were involved—political, diplomatic, economic and security matters. Yet, the spiritual component was also present: the satisfaction of being able to help others which related to the basic disposition of the Jew and the tenets of his faith. It was a chance for "raising the human level of the people" and "doing what 'is good for them." The Jewish religion stresses aid, interpreted in the broadest sense of the term, to the underprivileged and unfortunate.
Thus, Israeli action may be looked upon as an extension of the Jewish concept of almsgiving. There is an Israeli sense of mission and desire to share advancements and experiences with the peoples of the developing world. As The Guardian observed:
Israel's policy towards Black Africa should perhaps be seen in wider terms, and should be recognized to be not just part of its defense line against the Arab world, but also a genuine desire to be of help. Africans respond because they recognize this.
In addition to the powerful thrust flowing from the prophetic teachings, to share knowledge with the less fortunate and assist them, there was sympathy for the victims of exploitation and an identity with the African peoples who had been persecuted on racial or ethnic grounds. As Ben- Gurion discerned:
The only people who are trusted in Africa are the people of Israel, and this is not only because they are not afraid of us as a small nation.... They feel our approach is more brotherly and more human.
Furthermore, Israel also gained a positive world image and new respect, especially in the West, by offering advice on the modernization of African countries. The assistance programs also helped boost Israel's self-confidence as a donor and no longer just a recipient of development aid. Thus, Golda Meir, who made Africa a special object of attention during her tenure as Foreign Minister, told the Knesset in 1963:
Israel has always assumed, is assuming and will continue in the future to assume, an active role in every operation and every objective meant to consummate the restoration of human and national dignity to once down-trodden peoples in Africa and in every place on earth.
It was Ben-Gurion again who expressed these themes in terms of a moral and political imperative: "It is now the duty of the rich and developed nations, for the sake of their own peace, liberty and future, to offer their devoted assistance to the backward peoples." This was a theme he had constantly stressed:
Israel has been granted the great historic privilege, which is therefore also a duty, of assisting backward and primitive peoples to improve themselves, develop and advance. Thus, helping to solve the greatest problem of the twentieth century ... the problem of the dangerous gap between Asia and Africa on the one hand and Europe and America (and Australia) on the other.
One cannot weigh with quantitative accuracy the effect of this view in Israel's East Africa policy, but it is significant. East African interest in Israel was based on several factors. First, there was the historical connection of a similar struggle for independence. Both Israel and East Africa had the experience of dealing with and struggling against, in one form or another, British imperial rule.
Kenya and Uganda were British protectorates and later colonies, from 1890; while Tanganyika (present day Tanzania), like Palestine, became a British Mandate after World War I. In Kenya, African nationalist forces struggled against British dominance in the Mau Mau Uprising from 1952 to 1960, while in Mandatory Palestine, Jewish nationalist forces like the Haganah, the Irgun and Lohamei Herut Yisrael aka LEHI battled the British from 1944 to 1948. Ethiopia had to contend with British Imperial power on all its frontiers, save two (Djibouti and Italian Somaliland), until the late 1950s. Additionally, British forces remained in Ethiopia from January 1941 until 1945, causing some resentment. The British, who had been slow in recognizing Emperor Haile Selassie as an independent sovereign in exile, and at one time toyed with the idea of sponsoring a separate Galla state, had at first classified Ethiopia as "Occupied Enemy Territory." The proud Ethiopians, however, regarded themselves as a liberated Allied country and sought to assert the Emperor's rule and to eliminate British influence as early as possible.
Furthermore, the British continued to occupy the Ogaden, (until 1948) and the Haud (until 1955) regions of Ethiopia. They insisted that the Emperor have British advisers, they resisted Ethiopian ambitions in Eritrea and Somalia and they cultivated the Greater Somalia movement that would later emerge as a threat to the Ethiopian state itself. British forces remained in Eritrea for eleven years until 1952.
Similarly, Israel in its early years of statehood had to contend with continued British presence in the Middle East. British influence remained paramount in Egypt until 1952 and in Transjordan (after 1950, Jordan) until 1955. British power thus faced Israel on its two longest land frontiers. Israeli troops had actually engaged British forces during the former's advance into the Sinai Peninsula during the 1948–49 Arab–Israeli War (the Israeli War of Independence), and very nearly came to blows again during the early 1950s on several occasions. British officers even commanded the Arab Legion of Jordan, viewed as the most effective Arab fighting force and the greatest threat facing Israel during that period. For these reasons, there was an additional historic link between Israel and the nations of East Africa in their collective struggle against foreign, i.e. British, rule and influence.
Additionally, Israel's successful struggle for independence from British rule was reassuring and inspirational to many East Africans and greatly enhanced Israel's prestige. On October 20, 1944, 251 Jewish resistance members, including some from Lohamei Herut Yisrael ("Fighters for the Freedom of Israel"), aka LEHI, were deported to detention camps in British-controlled Eritrea. In March 1947, members of the Irgun and the Lohamei Herut Yisrael, were sent to the detention camps in Gilgil, Kenya, by British authorities. Israeli leaders' acceptance of British imprisonment was generally admired by their East African counterparts, some of whom, like Jomo Kenyatta, were subjected to similar treatment. Years later, some citizens of Kenya vividly recalled the exile, by the British, of Israel's underground fighters to their land.
A second general historical factor that adds strength to the political bond between Israel and East Africa was the long history of discrimination and persecution suffered by both peoples in the past. Jewry was the "guinea pig of colonialism in Europe." Some East Africans could even see the similarity of the Holocaust and the slave trade (both transatlantic and Arab East African) as well as the similarity of the Jewish ghettos in Europe and the apartheid system in South Africa.
A second basis for East African interest in Israel was that some East Africans saw Israel's political, economic and social problems closely related to their own, and saw the beginnings of realistic Israeli solutions to those problems as worthy of emulation in their own country. Israel was viewed as a small, young country facing grave political and security problems, and not easily suspected of colonial or expansionist ambitions. It had to grow things where nothing had grown for centuries. It had to find water for regions that had been waterless for centuries; to reclaim swamp lands; to find means of conserving soil in wadi-riven areas subject to winter torrents; to rid itself of the malaria mosquito; to experiment with crops in soil generally classed as infertile; and, in a large measure, to create resources where none existed naturally. Above all, Israel had to settle economically and integrate socially over a million new immigrants of diverse national backgrounds, many of them primitive. This meant the planning, and setting up of complete rural and urban communities, developing methods for imparting a homogeneous language, for quickly training people of all ages in a variety of necessary skills, and for organizing workers into useful production patterns.
The East African states, too, had to face political and security problems, as well as cope with the basic socio-economic challenges of proper land utilization, water irrigation and flood control, eradication of disease and insect pests, as well as integration of the various tribal groups within each nation. As Dr. J. G. Kiano, Kenya's Minister of Defense noted:
That is why I admire Israel so much—the way in which you have managed to achieve national integration of people with so many different backgrounds. In Kenya, we are trying to merge people of different ethnic groups and religious backgrounds into one solid nation. The example of Israel gives us great hope that it can be done.
In Israel, East Africans saw an economy that was transformed from a developing to a developed state in less than a generation; and this indeed was the overriding goal of the new African states. The dynamism of Israel's development effort, the pioneer spirit that pervaded it, and its visible achievement in difficult circumstances undoubtedly excited the interest of many developing countries, providing an attractive model with which to identify themselves.
Excerpted from FROM JERUSALEM TO THE LION OF JUDAH AND BEYOND by Steven Carol Copyright © 2012 by Steven Carol. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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