Israeli flag. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Israeli flag. Picture: JACK GUEZ / AFP

Mixed reaction to Israel being granted observer status at the African Union

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published Jul 29, 2021

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DURBAN - THERE has been mixed reaction to Israel being granted observer status at the AU.

While the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) has lauded the inclusion of Israel and called on Pretoria to embrace the Jewish nation as a means to generate economic gains for poverty-stricken South Africans, the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) said the decision was inexplicable.

Israel previously held observer status at the now defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but was thwarted in its attempts to get it back after the OAU was replaced by the AU in 2002, the country said in a statement.

Israel being granted observer status at the AU would allow it to establish or strengthen trade and economic relations with African countries.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that its observer status with the AU would allow it to co-operate, among other things, in the fight against Covid-19 and the prevention of the spread of extremist terrorism throughout the continent.

But the move was slated by the South African Muslim Network (Samnet), which said it would rubbish the AU’s anti-oppression principles.

Expressing shock, South Africa criticised the decision yesterday as “unjust and unwarranted”, and added that the AU Commission had taken it “without consultations with its members”.

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for Dirco, said the decision was inexplicable given the AU’s “strenuous objection” to the recent destructive bombardments of Palestine.

“The decision to grant Israel observer status is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements on the land. The decision by the commission in this context is inexplicable.

“Israel continues to illegally occupy Palestine in complete defiance of its international obligations and relevant UN resolutions. It is incomprehensible that the commission chooses to reward Israel at a time when its oppression of Palestinians has been demonstrably more brutal,” said Monyela.

Only pressure from civil society to isolate Israel could really dissuade it from continued oppression of Palestinians and infiltration of Gaza, said Dr Faisal Suliman, chairperson of Samnet.

“The more Israel becomes part of bodies like the AU, the less incentive there will be for Israel to even bother stopping the expulsion of Palestinians and oppression of Palestinians since 1948,” said Suliman.

Israel’s foreign ministry hailed the development: “For the first time since 2002, Israel’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Aleligne Admasu, presented his credentials as an observer to the AU. This is a day of celebration for Israel-Africa relations. It corrects the anomaly that has existed for almost two decades and is an important part of strengthening the fabric of Israel’s foreign relations.

“Israel has relations with 46 countries in Africa, and has wide-ranging partnerships and joint co-operation in many different fields, including trade and aid,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid.

SAZF said it was hopeful that AU members would work more closely with Israel in fighting the coronavirus, improving regional security and implementing water, agricultural and healthcare technology solutions for the benefit of their societies.

“Greater intercontinental co-operation with Israel is a sign that the South African government should follow suit in building and improving South Africa’s relations with Israel.

“The furthering of the partnership with Israel would bring increased positive benefits and impacts for all South Africans and help address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality,” said SAZF’s national chairperson, Rowan Polovin.

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