Ever since the African Union (AU) granted Israel an ‘observer status’, the organization has found itself entangled in a pitiful web of political maneuvering and controversy. Only two months earlier, this same organization has joined rest of the world in condemning Israel for violating the international law with its reckless bombardment of Gaza, targeting civilians, and violent attacks inside the Al-Aqsa holy mosque.
This latest decision is perhaps the worst and most dangerous in the organization’s history since it puts its political and ethical values into question.
In July 2016, then Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited four influential African countries—Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia—to showcase or dangle a security and trade carrot and take his country’s relentless lobbying effort to gain AU oberver status since it lost such status with the Organization of African Unity in 2002.
As a country with the longest bilateral relationship with Israel and the one that was in desperate need to get air defense missiles to protect the GERD from potential attacks, Ethiopia was set to lead that quartet. And the quartet finally delivered and secured—at least for now—a priceless moral disinformation that Israel was hustling for a long time:
‘If the African Union does not consider the Jewish state a colonialist apartheid regime, who else might have the moral right to do so?’
As international media interest in Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza and the West Bank, the espionage gate turned the spotlight back on it.
The AU decision came at a time when Israel’s rogue attitude and relentless engagement on criminalities that endanger all others except Israel are at the center stage of international political and security debate.
Though the Israeli intelligence has a dreadful record of violating international law in terms of espionage, abducting people from foreign countries, and carrying out assassinations, the following revelation confirms that it has been franchising and enabling ruthless dictators and other rogue actors to commit same crimes with ease:
According to an investigation conducted by an international consortium of media and human rights groups, Pegasus is a “Military-grade spyware…for tracking terrorists and criminals”. So far, those governments that the Israeli firm supplied used the software “in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” Moreover, a leaked list containing more than 50,000 phone numbers that Pegasus owners have sought or spied on includes heads of states such as France’s President Emmanuel Macron.
Pegasus is a malicious spook-ware used by the Israeli intelligence to silence critics and to corrupt or blackmail world leaders and other influencers. Furthermore, Israel sold that dangerous software to many tyrants around the world such as Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed to hack cellphones of human rights activists, opposition leaders, journalists and others.
Collusion To Sustain Apartheid
Wittingly or unwittingly, enticed with trade and technology or blackmailed through dirty intelligence gathered by Israel’s spook-ware , the African Union took an action that is tantamount to being in collusion with Israel to bulwark that apartheid regime against a groundswell of international calls for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions).
The founders of Ben & Jerry are Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. They are “proud Jews” who were ultimately fed up with Israel’s ever-expanding land theft in the occupied territories, the apartheid system, and the systematic ethnic-cleansing against the Palestinian people. They also reject the notion that scrutinizing or condemning Israel’s oppressive policies is anti-Semitic.
Though they avoided openly supporting the international BDS movement, the values they expressed in their New York Times OpEd clearly endorses it. “We believe business is among the most powerful entities in society. We believe that companies have a responsibility to use their power and influence to advance the wider common good,” they opined. This is likely to encourage other international corporations to follow their conscience or try to get on “the right side of history”.
Israel is well aware of the detrimental effect that the international BDS movement had on South Africa’s apartheid system and that is why its leadership went berserk in seeking vengeance against Ben & Jerry.
No Moral Equivalence
Though some media groups portrayed this issue as an attempt to balance the scale since Palestine was granted such status in 2013, the truth of the matter is this: Inclusion of Palestine as an observer was more of a symbolic expression of solidarity with their cause against a colonial power that was bent on committing systematic ethnic-cleansing against the indigenous people of the land.
Contrary to the decision to include Palestine, inclusion of Israel was done without any consultations with all member states or any opportunities to debate. And as Algeria’s Foreign Minister said “this decision has neither the vocation nor the capacity to legitimize the practices and behaviors of the said new observer which are totally incompatible with the values, principles, and objectives enshrined in the ‘Constitutive Act of the African Union.”
Inclusion of Israel would not only give it a freehand on spying and browbeating African leaders, torpedo any symbolic or substantive support to the Palestinian liberation cause; it will poison the continental spirit of unity and anti-colonialism.
Mutiny of Conscience
In a strongly worded protest letter, the South African government described this divisive decision as an “unjust and unwarranted” that was taken “unilaterally without consultations with (AU) members”. The timing of the decision was even more offensive, or as underlined in the statement “…more shocking (as it came) in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land”.
Lead by Algeria,14 AU member states that include some with significant political clout such as South Africa, Nigeria, Botswana, and Tunisia have formed what could be called ‘coalition of the unwilling’ to pressure the AU to revoke Israel’s status. The AU must take heed or risk abolishing its continental unity when it was needed the most. Sadly, the list only included two Arab member states out of ten. Prominently missing in action were countries that historically opposed Israel’s role such as Egypt, Somalia, and Libya. This may indicate that Israel would soon get a full membership of the Arab League.
Shortly after the list became public, a second-tier group that includes countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Djibouti has issued a joint statement questioning the decision based on technicality- the AU Chairman made a unilateral decision. Still shamefully missing are countries such as mine- Somalia. Here is the painful irony: there was a time when the Somali passport had a prominent warning against traveling to the two apartheid regimes (South Africa and Israel).
Granting the last apartheid regime in the world the privilege of an observer at the African Union is a betrayal to the anti-colonialism and anti-racism principles that the organization was founded on, and indeed an insult to the legacy of Africa’s most principled son- Nelson Mandela whose pro Palestine stance was unwavering under all pressures.
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Abukar Arman is a foreign policy analyst and a former diplomat. On Twitter: @4DialogSK
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