While in 1947 the Indian organizers of the First Asian Relations Conference invited a Yishuvi delegation, eight years later the Bandung Conference organizers did not invite Israel. At the same time, the second half of the 1950s signaled the start of Israel’s long “African Decade,” which would end only when many African states cut their diplomatic ties with the Jewish State after the 1973 October War. The first two countries to establish diplomatic ties with Israel were Ethiopia, in 1956, and Liberia, in 1957; in the 1960s, many others followed, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Thousands of Africans studied in Israel. Moreover, thousands of Israeli engineers, agronomists, architects, geologists and others who had participated in nation-state building in Israel worked often for years in development projects in Africa and also, though less so, in Asia and Latin America. And as Ronen Bergman’s 2007 PhD thesis “Israel and Africa: Military and Intelligence Liaisons” shows, Israel exported weaponry and Israeli officers shared with the militaries of recently decolonized African countries their expertise in warfare and in controlling civilians. After all, Israel blitzed through the Egyptian Sinai in 1956, had won its first war back in 1948-1949, and from then until 1966 kept its own Palestinian citizens under military rule.
In fact, the Israeli Defense Forces and the foreign intelligence agency Mossad were central to Israel’s involvement in Africa. The core reason for Israel’s interest in Africa was political and strategic. Israel needed allies in the United Nations, where postcolonial Asian countries were turning against it. And it wished to minimize the dangers of postcolonial Arab-African alliances and to extend to parts of Africa its “periphery doctrine” of honing relations with Middle Eastern countries that neighbor Arab states, like Iran and Turkey. As it did so, Israel at times shared some contacts and information with the US government; becoming a US asset was a boon to the Israeli government, though it remained fiercely independent-minded.
Hence, we have the text reproduced here: translated English excerpts from a 1962 Arabic-language book that shows how Arab nationalists read Israel’s Africa policy. Moreover, as works like Haim Yacobi’s Israel and Africa: A Genealogy of Moral Geography (2016) and Ayala Levin’s Architecture and Development: Israeli Construction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Settler Colonial Imagination, 1958-1973 (2022) show, the afore-noted political and strategic imperatives were steeped in well-rooted Zionist aspirations—aspirations that were colonial in type though not name—to be a Western developmentalist pioneer in the world. These aspirations pertained especiallyto Africa, which, literally bordering Israel, has helped shape Israelis’ view of their place in the world. At the same time, however, Israelis explicitly framed this pioneering self-view within a view of Africans as people who, like the Jews, had recently escaped colonial conditions and reached independent statehood.