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Israel's Netanyahu to end 21-year refrain from Africa

Netanyahu will become the first Israeli PM to visit Africa since 1994 [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 July, 2016

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The Israeli prime minister's visit aims to build ties and promote trade in a continent where relations have been historically strained.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to make his first trip to Africa as leader in his official capacity, in a trip that will involve trade talks and a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of his brother's death in a hostage rescue operation.

Netanyahu will become his country's first sitting prime minister to travel to Africa since Yitzhak Rabin's attendance of the Casablanca Middle East/North Africa Economic Summit in 1994.

It is expected that he will visit Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda.

The trip comes after Israel's cabinet approved a proposal on June 25 to open offices of Israel's Agency for International Development in four countries.

Israel is also launching a $13 million aid package to bolster economic ties with African nations, Netanyahu's office said.

The planned tour was described by the PM to his cabinet as being "part of a major effort on our part to return to Africa in a big way".

"This is important for Israeli companies and for the state of Israel. It is also important for the countries of Africa," he said.

Strained past relations

The Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 pitted many North African nations against Israel, while many sub-Saharan states also cut ties with the Jewish state.

Israel's close ties to South Africa's apartheid regime prior to its fall in 1994 also did not bode well for many African states who opposed their rule by racial segregation.

Ethiopians protest in Israel
Black Jews protest against discrimination in Israel [Getty]

In Israel, many of the country's citizens of African origin face discrimination and are regarded by some as second-class citizens.

This has led to inequalities in education, employment and a disproportionate population of Ethiopian Jews in Israel's prisons.

Despite this troubled past, Israel has conducted sustained diplomatic efforts with African countries which Netanyahu hopes to cement on his upcoming trip.

It is reported that the visit is seen as an opportunity for Israel to gain allies, particularly at the United Nations where it is regularly condemned for its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Personal significance

He said he wants to make the trip close to the anniversary of the July 4, 1976 Israeli hostage rescue in Uganda, in which his brother died.

Yonatan Netanyahu was killed while leading a commando raid in Entebbe, Uganda, to free passengers aboard an Air France plane hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans.

The raid managed to free 100 Israeli and Jewish hostages. Those who were killed include 20 Ugandan soldiers, seven hijackers, several Ugandan civilians and Netanyahu's older brother.

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