Wednesday, May 24, 2017
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Somalo-Jewish relations: blasphemy or real politic

By Faisal Roble

These are some of the questions that I pondered while on a family vacation in West Palm Beach, Florida. Is Somalia finally joining the campaign to end the sub-Saharan diplomatic “embargo” of the Jewish state? If so, does this mean Mogadishu under President Hassan  and Prime minister Omer has abandoned the Somali National philosophy founded by the SYL that gave primacy social justice and fairness over diplomacy?  Is Somalia in the throes of following real politic as opposed to justice, self-determination of oppressed people, and the philosophy of its founding fathers? Is post-civil war Somali State more comfortable to be in bed with the Jewish state as long as rent money can be realized?

 PM Netanyahu and President HassanOn July 4, 2016, The Times of Israeli spiced the feverishly awaited Eidul Adxa holiday (July 5th, 2016) with a surprisingly groundbreaking feature article and reported that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud secretly met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The article also referenced a senior official close to Mahmoud who confirmed to The Times of Israel that “the meeting took place in Tel Aviv” following several low level meetings.

The news scoop reverse a 60-year-old diplomatic policy of Somalia, while it coincides with a historic visit by Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu to four East African countries that provide security to Somalia. Although President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud did not attend the Entebbe, Kampala, meeting for optical reasons, many in Mogadishu speculate that election-weary Somali President has spoken with him.

In an effort to do damage control, the Somali Federal Government, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SFGMOA), issued an after-thought lukewarm denial of any meeting between Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud and Netanyahu. Despite such a categorical denial, it is plausible that the information carried by the Israeli newspaper is credible and equally believable on several accounts.

First, Israeli media, which is free from their government’s control, has nothing to gain by fabricating such news on Somalia. Second, it is also an established national passion by the Jewish state, its intellectual circles, and its well-established media to monitor diplomatic relations that the Israeli government scores with the outside world, and more so with the Islamic nations. Lastly, for about four decades, Israel has maintained secretive relationship with many Arab and Islamic countries and has expertise in how to manage, leak and share, when necessary, diplomatic messages such as this one concerning the bilateral meeting between Somalia and Israel. To that end, Mr. Netanyahu never denied the contents of article, but affirmed that Israel deals all the time with countries that may not have diplomatic offices in the open.

It is therefore believable that The Times of Israelis giving both its citizens and to the rest of the world that, after many secretive meetings at lower levels, the top leaders of Mogadishu and Tel Aviv  have officially met, and Israel must be happy about this development. Given the current geopolitical reality in the region that is so fluid and so globalized, where the West, India and China are all actively posturing, Israel is serious not to be left out.

The Jewish State

The creation of a Jewish state was pioneered by Zionists whose struggle to find a permanent home for Jewish émigrés in Europe began in earnest in the 19th century. Consequently, the state of Israel was established in 1947 by a UN action, which was supported and pushed by the administration of Truman who at the time badly needed the support of the pro-Israeli lobbyists in Washington.

The champion of the Jewish cause at the UN was none other than an Afro-American diplomat, Ralph bunch, who served as the US Mission at the UN during that period. Ralph Bunch’s passionate support for the Jewish cause later on served as one of the bases for the Afro-American and Jewish American coalition during the Civil Rights era. In his memory, the largest building at UCLA, a university closely affiliated with the Jewish community in Los Angeles, is the Ralph Bunch building which also houses the African Studies Center. Founded by an American Jew, the late James S. Colman, the Center is the oldest African Studies Center and it trained the largest post graduate Somali students, including this writer.

israelThe creation of Israel, one of the poster children of the UN’s post war projects, has since then negatively impacted the political and social aspirations of millions of Palestinians that have been rendered landless and stateless. Today, the Israel government is responsible for the pushing out of “Christian and Muslim inhabitants who made up over 95 percent of its population” when Israel was created. It is also responsible for crimes against humanity that took place in Sabra and Shatile in the 1980s.

The very diplomatic relationship that Israel sought with the rest of the world had always been, therefore, defined by the morel aspect embedded in the creation and maintenance of the Jewish state at the expense of Palestinians. Those communities that have been pained by the injustice carried against Palestine refused to establish any diplomatic relation with the state of Israel.  Most Arab, Muslim and African nations, Somalia included, and once loosely known as the non-aligned countries, did not have any relations with Israel for many decades. Exception to this has always been Turkey and Iran. Although both of these countries are Muslims and part of the non-aligned coalitions, owing to their unique fear of domination by the Arab world, they always maintained covert relationship with Israel, mainly in the area of security. This type of covert relation, dating back to the 1950s and 1960, spread to Some Arab world in the 1970s.  The King of Morocco, for example, always maintained a covert relationship with the Jewish state. 

Afro-Jewish Diplomacy

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there was what was known as the African “embargo” on Israel diplomacy.  Israel was considered by many post-colonial African leaders a “figment” of Western powers in the midst of Middle East. Also, the political and military cooperation between the Jewish state and Apartheid South Africa, whose arms trade in the 1990s amounted at its heights between US$400 and US$800 millions complicated matters more.

However, the so-called African “embargo” of Israel started to teeter after the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the subsequent establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. As a result, many sub-Saharan African countries, namely Zaire, which established the first relationship (1982), followed in earnest by Liberia (1983), the Cameroon (1986), Côte d’Ivoire 1986), and Togo (1987), began to establish full blown diplomatic relations with Israel.

When asked why the change in diplomacy, the former Zairian dictator, Maputo Sese Seeko, said the following: that Africa only had one problem with Israel in that Egypt which was a member of the Organization for African Unity, was in war with Israel. The end of that war, he said, also ended the African diplomatic “embargo” on Israel, thus triggering a chain of change in hearts by many sab-Saharan leaders. This in effect ushered a new era for Afro-Jewish diplomacy.

Ethiopia, with its historical ties with Jews never adopted any “embargo” on Israel. From the kingdom of Haile Selassie, the dictatorship of Mengistu regime to the current government, the Ethio-Jewish relationship, mainly in the area of military training, never slowed down.

Somalo-Jewish Relationship

It is not often cited or even remembered where, if any, intersection exists between Somali and Jewish history. However, there are vignettes of historical references between the two. Like the Falasha in Ethiopia, there is the Yibir tribe in Somalia whose origins are often placed in the Bête Israel (house of Israel). No research beyond tidbits of oral history is available as of yet to place the Yibir tribe in the Bête Israel. One attribute that the Falashas in Ethiopia share with their Yibir counterparts is that both of them are despised minorities in a Christian and/or Muslim majorities.

There is also the oral history that some of the hairstyles Somali women carry (such one that is called “dhoor” or tracing the hair in two circles around the head of unmarried young women) have roots in ancient Hebrew culture.  Braiding young female hair in small multiple lines is another trait only practiced by Somalis, Ethiopians and Jewish.

Another more recent connection between the two sides is the remote phenomenon that most of the earlier scholars on Somali studies were Jewish Americans or European, including I. M. Lewis, Andrzejewski, John Johnson, at el. A case of a particular interest is Saadia Touval, an Israeli scholar, whose fascinating account on Somali Nationalism: International Politics and the Derive for Unity in the Horn of Africa, written in 1963 for a Harvard Ph.D. dissertation.  This book serves as the basis for understanding the formation of the Somali state and its search for the unification of the Somali speaking regions. The chair for the completion of Mr. Touval’s dissertation was none other than Hennery Kissinger, one of America’s most influential diplomat and a Jewish-American heavyweight.

But there were also dividing walls and major differences between Somalis and the Jewish state. First, Somali nationalism was an offshoot of post-world war nationalism.  As such, it was guided by the Pan-Somali Youth League (SYL) whose philosophy was rooted in both modern Arab nationalism and in Islam. A second factor which entrenched the divide between the two was the commitment of Somalis to support worldwide progressive movements, including Palestinian as well as South African causes pioneered by PLO and ANC, respectively. Such a political stance of Somalis on global issues was always consistent with the founding vision of SYL that believed in the right of self-determination of nations and nationalities including that of the Somali people in the greater region of the Horn of Africa.

With the failure of the modern Somali state, the unilateral secession of Somaliland, the mushrooming of clan based movements in the 1980s (SNM, SSDF, USC, et el), the reformation of the clan-based post-civil war Somali state that is bereft of any pan-Somali philosophy is turning Somalia into a “rent-seeking” state.

Yet even with such anomalies, most Somalis I have talked don’t approve their country joining the choir of Africa in ending the so-called diplomatic “embargo” on the Jewish state. Most of   them told me “not now,” because of the timing this issue is coming, and the dearth of legitimacy associated with the government.

In the words of Alex De Waal, whose book (The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa: Money, War and the Business of Power) I am reviewing for the Publisher, Somalia is a state whose services are available in exchange for rent money. In that sense, if the Gulf States until now paid rent cash and military cache in exchange for service, what prevents, a lot of Somalis say, the Jewish state from following a similar course and pay rent money to Villa Somalia in exchange for ending diplomatic “embargo?”

In September of this year, Somalis will decide whether the current occupier of Vila Somalia vacates or stays for a second term. It is only then that we can seriously evaluate the Somalo-Jewish diplomatic relationship, and whether the country is ready to embark on this uncharted waters. At this time, most Somalis would reject that proposal flat out right.

Faisal Roble
Email:faisalroble19@gmail.com

Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.


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  • Ali Bahar

    Faisal,
    Thanks for the article.
    Today’s Somali head of “clan states” have mastered one thing; they have become traveling beggars–the lowest strata of world beggars. They just keep knocking doors in for search of money… more cash for themselves. I doubted very much if Hassan Sheikh has an iota of understanding of the historical facts you have eloquently laid out in on your article. We have
    had a similar story surfaced years back when Somaliland was courting Israel to help her with her search for world recognition. Anything goes these days with no regard for the consequences. It is a shame, but that is the new breed of Somali politicians we are all supporting these days. A blind leading the blind!

  • Mohamed Yare

    As both the author and Dr. Bahar pointed out, the only foreign policy of the subsequent Somali “governments” has been to beg money from anyone anywhere. But even if there was a foreign policy agenda, I don’t think establishing a relationship with Israel would have helped. It maybe tempting to get closer to the state of Israel in the hopes that it will help the US, where Jews dominate politics and economics, become more friendly to Somalia. However, as the Somali saying goes, “Islaantii Awrka Cirka aragtay ee dameerteedii jarka ka tuurtay,” such a move will only bring more Arab enmity towards Somalis. The fact of the matter is that Israel has much more reliable friends in the region, namely Ethiopia and Kenya. I am a no expert on politics, but any such attempt would be as foolish as Houthi Yemenis tried to get closer to Iran and abandoned their long time friendship with the Saudis. I am sure now the Houthis know that wasn’t the best idea!

  • Wiil Waal

    I think Jews have much more influence on our culture than the author acknowledges. For instance, our holy book is a clone of their book, and theirs predates ours at least for 1500 years. However, I agree with Faisal that we don’t have to establish diplomatic relations at a time when the current leader of the Jewish state has doubled down on the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Arabs could care less whether we establish relations with Israel or not as most of them maintain contacts either overly or covertly, but we should look at the moral aspect of our decision. Moreover, being a parasite itself that lives off the West’s largesse, they won’t give us much aid anyway.

  • Ibrahim Farhan

    “By the end of 2008, the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip had been left to fend for themselves. Gaza was surrounded on all sides by Israeli sniper towers, electrified fences, concrete walls, and a naval blockade that prevented fishermen from trawling waters more than 3 kilometers from shore. Weaponized drones hovered overhead night and day, humming an incessant single note dirge that served as a constant reminder of Israeli control. Heeding Israeli government pledges to push Gaza’s economy ‘to the brink of
    collapse,’ army bureaucrats in Tel Aviv developed complex mathematical formulas
    to regulate the caloric intake of each person trapped inside the coastal strip. Gazans were forbidden from exporting products and prevented from importing cardamom, potato chips, seeds and nuts, cement, fruit preservatives, ginger, fishing nets, notebooks, musical instruments, size A 4 paper, and toys.

    ‘It’s like an appointment with a dietician,’ Dov Weisgalss, an Israeli government aide, joked
    during a meeting of top military and intelligence officials. ‘The Palestinians will get a lot thinner but won’t die.’”

    Source: Goliath by Max Bumenthal, 2013.

  • Ahmed Khalif

    I think the reported secret meeting between Hassan Sheikh, the President of the long failed state of Somalia and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, can be interpreted of either of two things:

    a) a desperate action from Mr. Hassan, ‘a traveling beggar’ as Ali Bahar called him, a sellout following the smell of money- selling Somalis’ birth rights for mess of pottage. In that case, Mr. Hassan resembles the Somali proverbial blind sheep that mistook the hyena’s foot shuffles for its fellow sheep’s then followed it to its burrow. Or.

    b)a red herring: a disinformation from Israel intelligences, at which it is good, intending to distract the public, specially the Somalis, from real objective of Mr. Netanyahu’s recent visit to the Somalia’s neighbours – Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, and Rwanda. All these countries that Mr Netanyahu has visited – except Rwanda – share their historic animosity of Somalia with Israel and they now have their militaries in Somalia; it is also widely known that Ethiopia and Kenya had implored Israel to help them in the security of their respective countries; in other words, they ostensibly asked for Israel to help them defeat alShabaab – a terrorist group who claims to be Somali resistance against foreign occupation of their country but is believed to be, according to their indiscriminate killing of the Somalis, the number one enemy of Somalia and clandestine army of Ethiopia and Kenya in Somalia.

    Somalia and Israel not only lacked a diplomatic relationship but their mutual animosity cannot be just ignored. Somalia, among the other things, keeps good religious, cultural and diplomatic relationship with Middle East Arab countries which Israel sees as its existential enemy. Conversely, Ethiopia claims good religious, cultural, diplomatic relationship with Israel since the time the Prophet Sulleiman. Israel is the number one military supporter of Ethiopia; and thus Somalia counts it as its number one enemy. It is therefore probable that Mr. Netanyahu was in those countries to help defeat their shared enemy, Somalia, once and for all; and the report of His secret meeting with Mr Hassan of Somalia was a red herring.

    • Wiil Waal

      If you believe Natanyahu , the most powerful man in the world, is co-conspiring with Kenya and Ethiopia against Somalia (a quintessential failed state) of all countries, you must be living in another galaxy! If you were to tell me this in 1976, it might have made sense. But with the possible exception of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, countries that would like to keep it in its current limbo, I don’t think any other country even thinks about it.

    • Mo Yabarag

      You put it nicely

  • Aden Ali

    Israel is a country in the community of nations and the new Somalia should do whatever possible to ensure great relations with all nations based on mutual respect of soverenty and the national interest of nations. In Somalia, we need to build our nation from the ashes of civil war and learning from Israel modern technology and farming and agricultural techniques is our national interest. Hence the displomatic talks are most welcome and congrats to the government of Somalia for such development.

  • Abdi Nur

    There is nothing wrong with having diplomatic relations with Israel. Many Muslim countries do have that. But any relation established with Israel has to come from a legitimate Somali government, and we don’t have that yet. When we get a real and legitimate government in Somalia, we should then do what is in our interest. If our interest (not the interest of Saudi Arabia or Iraq) is to establish good relations with the Jewish state, then we should exactly do that. Arabs have used us for decades for their own interest but we have got nothing back from them. They don’t even take our refugees. Instead they abuse and humiliate our poor people in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, etc. On the other hand, we should not be naive and believe that the Jewish state loves us. They hate us as much as they hate all other Muslim nations. We have to be smart and see where our interests are. The most reasonable outcome should be having good relations with everyone. If you are weak and fragile, you need to keep as many friends as possible and as fewer enemies as possible.

  • Mo Yabarag

    For me the argument below is non-starter and premature. We don’t even have a government that represents Somalia; it is a government in name. Let us reach there and then talk about who we should or shouldn’t have a relationship with. Having said that, if what I think a big rumour turns out to be true, then Hassan Sheikh and his entourage of beggars (as Dr. Ali mentioned below) have gone too far. They can a sign a pact with a devil. Somalis will and should not have a relatioship with the aparthied regime of Isreal, not because we are a member of the Arab league and part of the Muslim ummah, but purely on morale grounds. We, Somalis, are at the receiving end of a land grab by an invader. That is what stae of Isreali is all about.

  • mohamoud Yusuf

    Somalia is a nation in ruins and her leaders are totally clueless where they are so blindly heading with that tattered nation. Certainly to her own demise and that is indeed sad to wittness. Equally sad is that, our intellectuals are only capable lamenting with such school boy articles and subsequent comments. Is that all you can do
    faisal, yabarag, bahal………….? shame on you!!!!

    • Mo Yabarag

      You may have a point in so far as Somalia’s demise is concerned. But what is the alternative? keep silent and say nothing about our country’s?

  • mohamoud Yusuf

    Bro. Mo Yabarag
    I have read your writings on Somalia with patritiotism and unity and that is really great thing. What wanted to point is not to keep silent and say nothing about our country, rather, its contrary to that. But i am affraid that our intellectuals today are only story tellers. We are reiterating on pointing on agonizing stories when the whole country is drifting away into the hands of our arch enemies. Why somali intellecuals are not capable to unite their minds and come up with any plan to the salvation of our nation like other intellectuals in the world? why are preoccupied with OP EIds that are benefiary to our enemies as we only expose our internal affairs rather than producing a think tak in guiding our so called leaders, instead of pinpointing their failures, or why we cannot create another political platform against those fools who are bulkenizing our country ino clan fiefdoms and in so doing serving the the country on silver plate to the enemies?

    • faisal Roble

      What a silly and negative feedback . Let us see what you can do for us. I am sure Wardheernews will publish for you.

  • Ahmed Khalif

    You are right M. Yusuf.
    Soomaalidu waxay tiraahdaa: “Meel hoo u baahan hadal wax kama taro”.. In other words action is louder than words. To save Somalia needs not words but actions.

  • mohamoud Yusuf

    Faisal, I appreciate your comment but i still believe being critical doen’t necessarily mean sillyness and negativity

    • faisal Roble

      Mohamoud,

      You have to be critical and that is good. I applaud you if you were one. But the portion of your comment that describes our effort as high school work is in deed silly, and far from being critical. I bet you have learned one or two new info from this article. How do I know? Because some of the info I supplied to you is so unique and rare you may not even be able to extract from Wikipidia. In the future, If you have to showcase critical analysis I welcome it. Insults, nop! Until my next endeavor, goodbye and stay positive.

  • Ali Bahar

    Mohamoud,

    I understand you are frustrated like everyone else in this loop. But reading your last emails gives the impression you yourself are not offering concrete solutions to the Somali problem, but pointing fingers just like the rest of us. Meaning, you are just another learned man-“intellectual”, unless you are refuting that. So, what are you offering? What’s in your wallet…as the commercial says?
    I am not in the business of accusing you or anyone else for not coming up with lasting solutions to Somali question; no, to the contrary. But equally as important, is seeking knowledge in the hopes we might eventually have some understanding of what is happening to us. I find solace in visiting this loop with the expectation that people like Faisal Roble, and others, would always take pains in publishing well researched articles in this website. I don’t know about you, but at least for me, there are few notable people in this group that put immense work into what they publish and share with us, free of charge, again and again, with the sole purpose of nourishing us with high level analysis with verified facts. But if you felt what is posted is below your level, just skip and read the next one! It is free! Furthermore, to the name “intellectuals”, I haven’t seen Faisal or
    myself signing the term under our names- as intellectuals. So, I think your blame is misplaced. Most of today’s parliamentarians and ministers call themselves intellectuals. Maybe you should blame them; yet better, redefine the term “intellectuals” and find out who these people are— the saviors of the Somali people.

    To the bigger question of how to resolve the Somali question, first ask yourself: where is the nation you want to unify and whether the Somali tribes want to do so? We are all individuals in here who seek refuge in this place, away from tribal diatribes and personal attacks. Maybe it will help if you (all of us) try to appreciate knowledge and thank others for a good a work they do. That, in turn, may unify our thoughts as a group, explore the common goals we share, and then maybe, just maybe, we will reach the evading success
    we are badly in need of.

    Good luck!

  • mohamoud Yusuf

    Ali Bahar
    People like you and Faisal Roble really inspire me as I am a student in tertiary level. I have learned a lot from Faisal’s ingenious writings and analyses on our country and even Africa in general and that itself a noble endeavour, but I think some of you misunderstood my initial simple comment. I have by no means intended to degrade or belittle Faisal’s article, rather, I would like to see our intellectuals (me not icluded) put their great minds together and forge a political platform that can divert the direction in which our country is taken by mostly ravenous elite whos driving motto is emotion and NOT the intellect and infact that distinction is the definition of being intellectual

    • faisal Roble

      Mohamed, I have known Dr. Alie Bahar for some time now. To say the least, he is a patriotic Somali man with unlimited patience to our country. He refused to be a tool for unscrablous “wannabe” leaders.

      Your criticism of intellectuals in the broader sense is true and I accept it. For 25 years we could not forget a single political movement outside psydo Islamsts and clan-based politics. Look at what is happening in Somalia, even areas we thought to be emerging with good governance. They all succumbed to parochial interests.

      In 2005, I, just like what you are suggesting, wrote an article critical of the socalled Somali intellectuals and how they failed the nation. I welcome your critical view of our elite.