Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting four African states- Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The visit is being hailed as a landmark, Netanyahu being the first Israeli PM to do so in 50 years. The focus of the trip was to be the universal challenge of Islamic terrorism, which is threatening the African continent as well, Al Shahab and Boko Haram being the spearheads. Ostensibly, Israel and many African states want to make common cause of it in a bid to defeat it before it reaches annihilating proportions.
It also marks the anniversary of the famous Entebbe raid in July 1976. Israel mounted an operation more than 2300 miles from its homeland to free more than 100 hostages, the majority being Israeli, being held by Pro-Palestine hijackers at an abandoned airport terminal at Entebbe, with the tacit support of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. In the operation that followed, the only thing that marred an otherwise successful and extremely well planned and executed operation, was the death of one Israeli soldier. His name was Yonatan Netanyahu, the elder brother of the present PM of Israel.
The visit was doubly moving for the Israeli PM, which he mentioned in his speech, “This is a deeply moving day for me. Forty years ago they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”
What followed in the speech by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni took the world by surprise and shock. In what is being claimed to be a gaffe, Museveni repeatedly referred to Israel as Palestine. To quote him, “The sad event, 40 years ago, turned into another bond linking Palestine to Africa”. The issue has been further complicated by a tweet by one of the President’s spokesperson, saying that it was not a slip, but that he was just referring to the entire region known as Palestine.
Though Benjamin Netanyahu did not flinch on the spot, Israeli radio stations cut off the broadcast after Museveni’s repeated references to Palestine.
It is well known that Israel supported many African states in their fledgling days of freedom from colonial yoke. It is also equally well known that the same states cut their ties with Israel in the 1970s after becoming recipients of Arab aid.
In light of the many years of an apparently fruitful relationship with the Arabs, were Museveni’s utterances just a gaffe or intentional to balance the scales with the Arabs?
Author Amitabh Hoskote, PHD Development & Conflict Studies, TISS Mumbai, and Vishakha Amitabh Hoskote, MPHIL Political Science, RDVV Jabalpur, M.A JNU Delhi, B.A LSR Delhi