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  • Israel in Africa: Security, Migration, Interstate Politics by Yotam Gidron
  • Michael B. Bishku (bio)
Israel in Africa: Security, Migration, Interstate Politics, by Yotam Gidron. London: Zed Books, 2020. 213 pages. $25.

Yotam Gidron presents, in a brief fashion, "a new history of the interplay between conflicts, violence and processes of state formation in Israel/Palestine and in the African continent," focusing on Israel's "growing interest" and engagement with African countries especially over the last decade (p. 5). He contends that Israel has had no clearly articulated or publicly known Africa policy or a "coherent international development agenda" (p. 3). However, Israel's interest in Africa has always been "driven by local security concerns" (p. 153). Since the late 1960s many of the prime movers in Israel for engagement on the African continent have been former security officials, arms merchants, and civilians "with close [End Page 330] ties to these groups," and African leaders have been able to take advantage of Israel's "strategic needs" largely for their own "local political objectives," i.e., remaining securely in power (p. 154).

The first two chapters review Israel's relations with countries in Africa until 1967 and from then until the early 2000s, respectively. There is nothing in the book, except for material in the last part of the second chapter, that a reader would not get in more detail in older, standard works.1 However, Gidron provides a succinct synthesis of developments and, in the last part of Chapter 2, includes information about such figures as the late Avi Sivan, who created the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR, from the French Batallion d'intervention rapide), an elite unit in the army for President Paul Biya in Cameroon; Dan Gertler, the diamond and copper mining magnate who was close with both Kabilas, father and son, who ran the Democratic Republic of the Congo following the 1997 overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko; and Hezi Bezalel, the investment banker who has influence with President Paul Kagame in Rwanda and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda. Indeed, during the 1990s and early 2000s, businessmen, security experts, and private companies were the main actors for Israel on the African continent.

Chapter 3 deals with Israeli moves to curb Iranian attempts to gain influence on the continent—especially in the Horn and East Africa, where Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (both rivals of Iran), and Turkey have also become quite active—and to lobby against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Only in South Africa has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) gained traction, but the PLO has observer status in the African Union, while Israel does not. By 2016, Israel made it clear that it was trading economic, technical, and security assistance for support at international forums, though it has been mostly private interests not the government operating in Africa, as the annual budget for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Agency for International Development Cooperation (Mashav, from the Hebrew Merkaz le-Shittuf Pe'ula Benle'umi) is a mere $9 million (p. 82). The Israeli arms industry deals with security matters, Israeli and Jewish nongovernmental organizations take care of humanitarian assistance, and Israeli start-ups and multinationals work on development issues.

In Chapter 4, Gidron points out that unlike the United States and more like China, Israel places no restrictions on human rights violations in countries where its businesses are operating. In fact, under the guise of counterterrorism, Israeli companies in Uganda and Ethiopia are assisting governments in surveillance to limit political dissent. Meanwhile, autocratic leaders in Africa receive credit from Washington on how they vote in the United Nations on Israelrelated issues. Israel also relies on Evangelical Christian groups, which there are many of in Africa, to organize pilgrimages and lobby on its behalf in their home countries. Indeed, Israel had a great deal of success in Nigeria during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan (2010–15).

Chapter 5, which discusses the subject of migration, is the most valuable part of the book. While many academics are probably well aware of the Israeli operations to bring Moroccan Jews and Beta Israel from Ethiopia to the Jewish state, less well known are the hardships of Africans, mostly...


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