Bitter Canaans The False Equivalence of Liberia and Israel

Despite their similarities, to insist that Liberia and Israel are equivalent examples of diaspora settler colonialism, is flawed.

It is frequently forgotten, but early Zionist thinkers consciously aligned their project with Black Liberation movements around the world. Theodore Herzl, writing in his utopian novel Alteneuland (Old-New-Land) of 1902, called for the ‘restoration of the Negroes’ to Africa under the principle that ‘all men should have a homeland.’ Other Zionists connected the indignities that Black people face with their own Jewish history. In the 1910s, for example, David Ben-Gurion, the founder of the state of Israel recalled in his letters to Itzhak Ben-Zvi feeling angry and ashamed by the Jim Crow system he saw in the United States. He called it the ‘Negro Pale of Settlement’ in reference to the ‘pale’ region that Czarist authorities used historically to segregate Jews in imperial Russian.  In a segregated movie-theater in Tennessee, Ben-Gurion describes choosing to sit with Black viewers, only for an usher to demand he change seats. The experience left a lasting impression. ‘Had I been a Negro I would have been the ultimate anti-Semite,’ he journaled privately in 1940. 

After its founding, Israel worked to cultivate friendly ties with newly independent African republics hoping to gain UN votes and cultivate business ties. By 1957, Israel established diplomatic relations with Ethiopia, Liberia and Ghana. Over the 1960s, Israel sent thousands of consultants, military advisors and businessmen to the continent, hoping to start joint business ventures and showcase the jewels of its developmentalist model: the kibbutz and moshav settlements, the gadna youth battalions, the nahal outposts. For instance, following Nigeria’s independence, the Israeli Jerry Beit Halevi was Nigeria’s first football coach. It was in this era that Israel’s nascent weapons industry also grew to be an export giant. By 1966, Israel was exporting weapons to ten African countries, including Ghana, Congo, Madagascar, Tanzania and Benin.  

In the United Nations, Israel remained a critic of South African apartheid in the United Nations until the early 1970s. It sent financial assistance to the Pan-Africanist Congress. In 1970, Israeli diplomats called Ian Smith’s white-minority breakaway state of Rhodesia an ‘illegal regime’. And Israel sent arms to the Angolan FNLA fighting the Portuguese. As Golda Meir wrote in her autobiography My Life, ‘Like [Africans], we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together and how to defend ourselves.’ She framed this drive as part of Jews and African people’s ‘shared memory of centuries-long suffering.’ On all these fronts, Africa became an indelible feature what Haim Yacobi calls Israel’s ‘moral geography’. This era lasted until Egypt’s partial victory against Israel in the October war of 1973, when many African nations broke relations with Israel to side with Egypt. 


These alignments—sentimental, economic and political—were always somewhat ephemeral. Unlike pan-Africanists or Africa’s newly independent post-colonial states, Zionist thinkers saw themselves as advocates of a settler-colonial project anathema to native sovereignty. Herzl, for instance, wrote to the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes beseeching Rhodes to throw his capital behind Jewish settlement of Palestine, a project he called ‘something colonial’. Later Vladimir Jabotinksy, the revisionist Zionist, would write in quite vivid terms in 1923 of the need for the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine to build an ‘Iron Wall’ against the native Arab inhabitants, since ‘all natives resist colonists.’ It was clear who he meant by colonists: his own Zionist audience. 

The Zionist choice of Palestine built on early searches for alternative colonies, many in Africa. In 1903, for instance, Herzl presented to the sixth congress of World Zionist Organization (WZO) the Uganda Plan. This implausible scheme, hatched by the British diplomat Joseph Chamberlain, aimed to resettle Jews fleeing pogroms of the Russian Empire in the Uasin Gishu plateau of modern-day Kenya, where British colonial planners were desperate to attract settlers and recoup losses from the unprofitable Uganda Railway. The plan’s failure paralleled other imperial efforts to boost Jewish ‘territorialist’ alternatives to Zionism. We can recall the Portuguese scheme from 1907 to 1913 to lure Jewish settlers to colonial Angola, the Nazi regime’s risible attempt to deport the European Jewry to Madagascar, or Mussolini’s tentative plans to resettle Jews in Italian-occupied Ethiopia to shore up the fascist regime’s new settler colony.  

Did the Zionists reject these alternatives out of principled concerns for indigenous African sovereignty? No. To read the private letters of Zionist leadership or the WZO’s meeting minutes on these proposals is to read a litany of practical complaints: existing white settler opposition, costly relocation, and the enduring allure of Palestine as the site of the ancient Hebraic kingdoms. In particular, after the 1917 Balfour declaration, the Zionist choice of Palestine had become a fait accompli. Pragmatic elements of the Zionist movement even collaborated with the Nazi and Italian fascist authorities to facilitate the emigration of Jews to Palestine.  

In 1933 for instance, the Zionist Federation of Germany and Anglo-Palestine Bank signed the Ha’avara Agreement with the Hitler dictatorship, allowing Jews to leave Nazi Germany and transfer a share of their assets abroad. The pact flouted a global anti-Nazi boycott and tore Jewish opinion apart (a chief negotiator, Haim Arlosoroff, was later assassinated). But it also lasted six years until the Nazi invasion of Poland, illustrating how the Zionist priority of building a populous Jewish Yishuv in Palestine could work perversely in tandem with the Nazi goal of a judenfrei Europe, ‘cleansed’ of Jews. 


How then to reconcile the colonizing ambitions of Zionist discourse with any of the intellectual currents which have historically moved African peoples? Consider a likely candidate, the Back to Africa movement. Over the 19th and early 20th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Black people left the Americas and liberated slave ships to resettle what is now Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Liberia—its most politically successful instance. Similar to Haiti’s 1816 constitution and Israel’s Law of Return for the Jewish diaspora, Liberia enshrined in its nationality laws the principle of refuge for ‘free people of color’. Black advocates of return, such as Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Edward Blyden, saw in their Atlantic movement a Zionist parallel—a political entity established by émigrés whose basis for shared kinship and national identity were forged in the fires of exclusion and exploitation abroad.  

Akin to the reluctant Jewish Zionist collaboration with the Nazis, the Black pan-Africanists found themselves with strange bedfellows. White planters, many from the Virginia piedmont, also liked the idea of shipping off the ‘black poor’ to a purported African homeland. Back to Africa, as understood by the slaveholder, promised to remove a ‘racially inferior’ caste from America. Conveniently, it would foreclose the trouble of integrating free Black people, all under ‘the garb of pretended philanthropy,’ wrote Jermain Loguen acidly in 1853.  

For these reasons, slavery abolitionists (both white and black) generally opposed the colonization societies, as did the overwhelming majority of ordinary Black people.  One finds their arguments recapitulated in William Lloyd Garrison’s Thoughts on African Colonization (1832), Frederick Douglass’ The Colonization Scheme (1852), and the letters of Gerrit Smith or James Forten. The discourse on Back to Africa presaged the polemics against a Jewish nation-state in Palestine made by Jewish non-Zionists, such the Reform rabbi Judah Leon Magnes or the Polish Bundist Marek Edelman. Their challenge to Zionism was similar to the abolitionist challenge to Back to Africa. As an old slogan of the Jewish labour bund once said, ‘Where we live, there is our country!’ 

Yet beyond this surface resemblance in the discursive landscape, Zionist and pan-Africanist thought shared little in terms of history and goals. For one, no pan-Africanist notion advanced by any serious advocate has, in the words of Michael W. Williams ‘made a claim to land outside or inside Africa that required the eventual expulsion or political and economic subjugation of its indigenous inhabitants.’ This is a testament both to the pan-Africanist project’s egalitarian commitments and to the simple fact that emigration was never a central object for its political success. Hundreds of millions of Africans still remained on the mainland, unlike Jews in Ottoman or Mandate Palestine. Here is Garvey in 1923: ‘It will not be to go to Africa for the purpose of exercising an overlordship over the native, but it shall be the purpose of…brotherly co-operation which will make the interests of the African native and the American and West Indian Negro one and the same.’ To return to Africa meant Black émigrés should accept the continent’s traditions and peoples, not replace them.  

We may juxtapose this call against the many statements by Zionists, varying in their explicit racism, of the need to replace the native Arab inhabitants of Palestine with Jewish émigrés.  Herzl, for instance, wrote of the indigenous Arabs of Palestine in his diary, that ‘we shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border…while denying it employment in our own country.’ Lord Balfour, the foreign secretary who declared the British Empire’s official backing for the cause of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, remarked in 1922 that Zionism was ‘of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.’ For Chaim Weizmann, Palestine contained ‘a few hundred thousand Negroes [כושים], but that is a matter of no significance.’ One challenge for Zionists was what to do with these Palestinian ‘Negroes’. Two options were foreseeable, either the transfer of Palestine’s non-Jewish Arabs elsewhere or their rule within the bounds of a territorially contiguous Jewish state—the latter arrangement representing what Ben-Gurion in 1967 and Yitzhak Rabin in 1976 prophetically warned would become ‘apartheid’. Which to choose?  


Here analogies to settler colonial states in Africa (not, tellingly, its anti-colonial movements) were useful. In 1941, the head of the Jewish National Fund, Menachem Ussishkin perceptively remarked on South Africa, ‘the blacks are eighty percent and have no rights at all . . . do you want that the Jews who are twenty percent should rule in Palestine?’ He ruled this option out, hoping that Jewish emigration would eventually give the Jews of the Yishuv a majority. ‘First, a Jewish state, and second, equal rights for the Arabs, and third, transfer of the Arabs only if they consent, as Mr. Ben-Gurion has written, is squaring the circle. It is impossible.’  

Among these three choices, Zionists committed to the first one—a Jewish state ruled by a Jewish majority. Alternative formulations, such as Martin Buber’s proposal for a binational, federated state in Palestine, remained on the margins of Zionist discourse. Yet because the Yishuv did not enjoy a critical mass of Jews, creating and maintaining a Jewish state in Palestine required imaginative acts of demographic engineering and governance. 

Practice followed theory here. In 1948, more than 85 per cent of Palestine’s Christian and Muslim Arabs within the borders of the declared state of Israel were expelled as stateless refugees. The few who remained, many in northern cities such as Nazareth and Haifa or the southern Bedouin, lived under military rule until 1966. Upon winning the 1967 war against its Arab neighbors, Israel then occupied the Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank—subjecting large, urbanized populations of Palestinians in the latter two regions to a regime of military rule that has lasted now more than half a century. Since the 1970s, the Israeli government has also permitted (and with its various subsidies encouraged) the expansion of a Jewish settler movement in the occupied territories. From the Gush Emunim settlers of the 1970s to the contemporary Knesset party space (Tkuma, Otzma Yehudit, Jewish Home) the most influential voices in settler politics embrace an irridentist, messianic, theocratic, and far-right vision of Jewish supremacy at any cost. Settlers live under different laws, hold different IDs, drive on different roads, attend different schools, and vote in different elections than their Palestinian native neighbors. 

There were a few hiccups in this arrangement of course. The Sinai Peninsula, for instance, was swapped for peace with Egypt in 1978. In 1980, Israel formalized its annexation of East Jerusalem, conferring on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem a special ID status short of full citizenship and voting rights. In 1981, Israel effectively annexed the Golan. With the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, Israel outsourced the governance of major Palestinian cities in the occupied territories to the newly created Palestinian Authority but retained about two-thirds of the land, called Area C, for its own military and settler enterprise. After 2005, the Israeli military built a separation wall through its West Bank territories, peeling off the Palestinian suburbs of east Jerusalem from the city’s heart. In 2005, Israel, under fire from Hamas, also withdrew from Gaza, swapping a direct land occupation for a crippling blockade by air, land, and sea.  

The purposes of the Separation Wall and disengagement from Gaza were many, but included the creation of a security architecture that would allow Israel to divide-and-conquer the West Bank and Gaza, prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state, and repress any serious resistance to its rule. Thus, the last 20 years of occupation record what analyst Tareq Baconi called a ‘violent equilibrium’. Israel maintains an indefinite occupation and ever-more refined apartheid system, punctuated by periodic, devastating wars in Gaza. The implicit wager of Israel’s right-wing rulers was that the costs of these wars will be small enough to be ignored by the Israeli public. It remains to be seen whether the Hamas attack on October 7 and the invasion of Gaza has left this illusion unscathed. Or whether the conflict is indeed in unchartered territory.  

If pan-Africanist enterprise differed from the Zionist discourse in rhetoric, it certainly did in practice. Liberia, for instance, had its own history of oppression unlike Israel in both degree and kind. It is true that Americo-Liberian settlers formed a ruling elite, that they rarely inter-married with native African peoples, that they fought periodic skirmishes with surrounding tribes, and adopted the English language, Western dress, plantation-style homes, and evangelical Christianity. The indigenous Kru and Grebo were excluded from birthright citizenship until 1904. Even Du Bois counseled the Black colonists to take a ‘high hand’ with the natives, lest ‘the tribal chiefs take matters in their own hands.’ To describe Liberia as a settler-colonial state along Zionist lines seems accurate, as many of Liberia’s own pan-Africanist advocates made clear. Edward Blyden for instance, in his treatises From West Africa to Palestine (1874) and The Jewish Question (1898) eagerly developed the Zionist-Liberia analogy.  

Yet Liberia, like Sierra Leone, was also an immensely impoverished resource colony of American and British capital interests, where nearly half of Black émigrés died from disease. As the American pan-Africanist Martin Delany bitingly wrote in 1852, Liberia was a ‘poor miserable mockery—a burlesque on a government—a pitiful dependency’ of the ‘slaveholding’ colonization society, whose ‘deep laid scheme’ was to ‘exterminate the free colored of the American continent.’ For much of its 20th century history, Liberia operated as a de facto one-party state under the suzerainty of the United States, which gained a naval post in West Africa while the Firestone Tire Company turned Liberia into a vast rubber fiefdom to be worked by the sweat and blood of unfree labour.  ‘Black Zion’ as I.K. Sundiata titled his book, was also ‘Black Slavery’. Exploitation of indigenous labour, not its eradication through ethno-nationalist forms of ethnic cleansing, was at the heart of Liberia’s pre-Civil War enterprise.  

Nor did legal discrimination in Liberia’s ‘Bitter Canaan’ persist at level of the current Israeli occupation—neither in its bureaucratic intensity, population scale, or durability.  Americo-Liberian rule came to an abrupt end with a coup d’état in the 1980s after which many of the settler family dynasties in the True Whig Party—the Tolberts, Tubmans, Coopers, and McGills—relocated abroad. For these reasons, to compare Liberia and Israel as kindred examples of settler colonialism, a comparison made by Mahmoud Mamdani, Joseph Massad, and more recently Ralph Leonard, is like comparing a berry shriveled years ago to a calabash gourd still growing swollen on the vine. The berry and the gourd are both fruits; both Israel and Liberia were attempts by empires to solve domestic racism (the Jewish or Negro ‘Question’) through colonial export. Yet this analogy neglects the scale, type, and history of the projects.  

Moreover, the degree to which Liberia evolved under the peculiar philanthropic and colonization initiatives of the United States and Britain makes it a somewhat anomalous representative of pan-Africanist tradition. There is so much more to Pan-Africanism. For instance, a current of anti-imperialist defiance pervades much of pan-Africanist heritage, which the Atlantic powers tended to suppress. This posture is acute in the fiery speeches of Thomas Sankara, the poetry of Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Négritude movement, the life of Julius Nyerere or Malcom X. Likewise, the West’s attitude toward pan-Africanists and Black Power movements is generally history of repression; American and Belgian spies helped Mobutu assassinate Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. The CIA frustrated Kwame Nkrumah’s grand designs for Ghana. Domestically, Steve Biko in South Africa and the Black Panthers in the US were ruthlessly persecuted by the police and so on. 

Zionists by contrast, tended to attach themselves to the protection and beneficence of a great power: the Ottomans first, then the British, and now the United States. The only episode where Zionist plausibly came into open confrontation with imperial authorities occurred during the waning years of the British Mandate in the 1940s, when Zionist militias such as the Irgun and Haganah attempted to sabotage British assets and defy British restraints on Jewish emigration out of fascist Europe. This era, now much mythologized, was the exception to the rule. Rarely do Zionist leaderships borrow from the anti-colonial undercurrents of pan-Africanist or Black radical tradition.  

Consider one decisive example, the Israeli Black Panthers, a movement which formed in 1971 among Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews to protest police brutality, urban neglect, and income inequality. Inspired by their Black American antecedent, the panthers renamed a Moroccan neighborhood of Jerusalem ‘Harlem’. They briefly contested in Israeli elections, winning less than one per cent of the vote. Their breakup is instructive. By the early 1980s, the right-wing Likud and Shas parties had easily appropriated the rhetoric and electoral base for working-class Mizrahi resentment. The panther leadership, deprived of a distinct platform, merged back into the Israeli left and human rights space. Kochavi Shemesh, for instance, folded what remained of the electoral manifestation of the Black Panthers into the Israeli communist party, Maki, which later became left-wing Hadash (now mostly represented by Palestinian citizens of Israel). Reuven Abergel went on to establish the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow.  

These groups are best characterized as secular and non-Zionist, because they do not explicitly commit to maintaining Israel as a state and society that privileges Jews. Hadash for instance, seek to advance the social justice of all people who happen to live as citizens under the Israeli state, whether Jewish Israeli, Palestinian Muslim or Christian, Druze or otherwise. One is at risk of mangling the meaning of words to say that the Israeli Black Panthers represent some indelible mark of Black political tradition on Zionist thought or Israeli politics writ large.  


The tenuous links between Zionism and Black Liberation becomes even more clear in Israel’s actual relations to Black peoples. Here the history is damning. At no time in the first decade and a half of its existence did Israel seriously challenge its hegemonic patron, the United States, on Jim Crow in a public forum. Instead, it armed the white man. Ignoring the international sanctions, Israel sold weapons to the white minority government of Rhodesia during the Bush War (1964-1979). Israel collaborated with the French military and the far-right settler terror group OAS in colonial Algeria. In the 1970s, Israel flouted a global arms embargo on the Portuguese dictatorship to sell it weapons in its colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique.  

By 1977, Israel with Menachem Begin’s Likud party at the helm, had buried Tel Aviv’s earlier, half-hearted qualms about South Africa’s white Afrikaner rulers (who had rooted enthusiastic for the German Nazis) and assumed the dubious distinction of the apartheid regime’s largest weapons supplier. Despite an embargo on arms sales, Israel pledged military support for Pretoria’s campaigns in Namibia and Angola, complete with combat aircraft, missile boats, and almost a billion dollars’ worth of machine guns, anti-tank ballistics, and air-to-air munitions.  It appears likely that Israel helped South Africa conduct a nuclear bomb test in the Indian Ocean in 1979. Israel’s antipathy toward the African National Congress only increased after Mandela’s meteoric rise in 1994, despite Jews’ historic role in the ANC’s anti-apartheid struggle. 

Much is made about Israeli support to the Biafran rebels in Nigeria, but thousands of diplomatic cables recently declassified in the Israeli archives tell a more cynical story. According to a recent Haaretz exposé, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s approach to Biafra was that of an arms dealer with a public relations problem. Pressed on both domestic and international fronts to help the Igbo (Israeli peace activist Abie Nathan and Ivory Coast president Félix Houphouët-Boigny were, for instance, specifically named), Israel also hoped to avoid alienating the Nigerian federal government. Its solution was to play a double game. Along with sending food aid to Biafra, Israeli diplomats reportedly handed Biafran representatives $200,000 in cash on at least two occasions, worked to connect them with private arms dealers, and in an improbable incident in November 1967, even snuck an Israeli merchant vessel into Biafra carrying ‘bombs, explosives, weapons, light ammunition, trucks, and 150 cows.’ 

The Foreign Ministry also quietly orchestrated what one Israeli diplomat in March 23, 1969 called a ‘large-scale propaganda campaign for Biafra,’ which included the strategic placement of op-eds in the Western press framing the Nigerian federal blockade as tantamount to genocide. The goal, as a Foreign Ministry director Yael Vered wrote in a cable to the Israeli embassy in London, aimed not just to mollify the peaceniks, but ‘to divert some of the sympathy for the Palestinians to this oppressed people’ and draw attention to the ‘murderous role of the Arabs’ – a reference to Egyptian pilots strafing Biafra in collaboration with the Nigerian military.  At the same time, Israel cultivated cordial relations with Lagos. It sold weapons to the Gowon regime and discussed opening an Israeli parachuting school in Nigeria, even as its cables meticulously documented the atrocities of the Nigerian military and the scale of corruption and bribery that entangled Israeli companies.  

The Biafran episode reflects a larger pattern of Israeli-African arms ‘diplomacy’. In Cameroon, Israel propped up longtime ruler Paul Biya and trained his personal militia. After the Congolese junta and Belgian officials brutally assassinated Patrice Lumumba, Israel played a critical role in training the Mobutu dictatorship’s famously abusive spies and paratroopers. Over the 1980s, Israel’s foreign ministry gifted the junta millions of dollars in military hardware and even swallowed its misgivings about Mobutu’s rabid antisemitism to send Israeli advisors to manage his personal plantation estate. Close ties eventually proved a useful inroad to help Israel exploit Congo’s vast mineral wealth—its cobalt, copper, gold, tin, and precious gems.  

Consider diamonds. Cut diamonds are Israel’s largest export sector and from 2001 to 2021 valued at around $288 billion. This is almost a fourth of Israel’s entire trade profile over those two decades, in which emerged a few Israeli mining barons such as Daniel Gertler and Beny Steinmetz. According to the US Treasury and anti-corruption groups like Congo is Not for Sale, Gertler and Steinmetz have grown their corpulent fortunes through ‘opaque and corrupt’ mining concessions in the Congo and Guinea, robbing the public coffers of African peoples of billions of dollars. Their activities earned them a slap on the wrist—periodic sanctions, fines, brief house arrest. It is unclear if these punitive steps have seriously derailed their ability to accumulate wealth through the murky thicket of shell companies and tax havens that make the Israeli diamond barons who they are. 

Yet the crux of the matter goes far beyond the financial trickery we can glean from the Paradise or Panama Papers. Israeli capital reaps outsized profit from its investments in diamond and cobalt mines in the Congo, where investigators like Siddarth Kara still find rampant evidence of severe worker exploitation, child labour, peasant evictions, the destruction of ecosystems, and widespread workplace death and injury. Moreover, the plunder of the Congo’s red earth, to the tune of several million tons of ore every year, has padded the profit of a few against the continued immiseration of the Congolese population, among whom one in ten children dies before the age of five. As an early and prominent investor in the Congo mining sector, Israel’s rapacious diamond industry is deeply implicated in this tragedy.  

Meanwhile in Liberia itself, Israeli cables reveal that Israel built the Tubman regime’s lavish palace, while the Mossad helped establish its security service. Israel systematically bribed Liberian officials to vote with Israel in the UN. When William Tubman was toppled in a coup d’état by Samuel Doe in 1980, Israel promptly armed the junta with hundreds of thousands of dollars of ammunition and helped train one of Doe’s most abusive units, the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit or ‘SATU’. So too in Ethiopia where the Marxist Derg came to power in 1974, Israeli weapons and advisors continued to flow, as Israel hoped to pummel the Eritrean rebel group ELF and buy out Mengistu Haile Mariam’s tacit cooperation in relocating the last of Ethiopia and Sudan’s Jews to Israel.  


Demographic interest in African emigration of course had its limits. Since 1973 when Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi ruled that the Ethiopian Jewry were the halachically Jewish descendants of the lost tribe of Dan, no other large African Jewish group have enjoyed comparative rights to emigrate. The Rabbinate recognizes neither the Igbo Jews in Nigeria nor the Abayudaya of Uganda as proper converts. Even the remaining Falasha Mura of Ethiopia (Jews forcefully converted to Christianity) have faced growing anti-immigrant pressure. ‘It will open the door to an endless extension of a family chain from all over the world,’ wrote the far-right cabinet member Bezalel Smotrich on the Rabbinate’s decision in 2021 to allow one thousand Falasha Mura into Israel. Meanwhile, the far-right raise no objection to the several hundred white Afrikaner converts who have emigrated to Israel in recent years, many to West Bank settlements.  

Asylum seekers in Israel from Sudan, Eritrea, and Congo (DRC) face an even colder welcome. Less than 0.15 per cent of their asylum claims are accepted, one of the lowest rates in the Western world. Under the current laws, irregular migrants are detained for up to a year. Thousands are deported to Rwanda, a tactic successive right-wing governments have allegedly arranged by paying off the Kagame regime. Anyone who has visited the Holot prison in Israel will be saddened by the sight. Men in white beards languishing solemnly. Stories of persecution carefully told, tales of lives uprooted, an under-caste humiliated, reviled, and coerced every bit as cruelly as the targets of the ICE prison archipelago in Texas or the EU’s FRONTEX system. To visit Holot or see a line of Black men ‘voluntarily’ board a plane to Kigali at the Tel Aviv airport is to see humans broken. Their dignity defaced.    


What these forays suggest is that Zionist ideology has very little in common with Black or African freedom struggles. Even the Israel-Liberia analogy is plagued by significant disparities. Far more easily can it be argued that Zionism emerged first as a Christian restorationist project as early as English Puritans; that it gained steam among some European Jews (but not initially those in the Middle East or America) as a response to swelling tides of antisemitism in Europe in the late 19th century. That it advanced by the lights of a few bourgeoise intellects, under imperial guarantees, in collaboration with diaspora capital, and antagonized by currents of romantic nationalist ideology, particularly in Germany. Once established, Israel behaved very much like a young settler state would, anxious to ensure the continued immigration of co-ethnics and adopting an eliminationist policy toward the natives like its older settler state patron, the United States.  

Israel, to the chagrin of its leftist and humanitarian elements, had no qualms working with African dictatorships to advance its business, demographic and diplomatic interests as a Jewish ethno-nationalist settler state. This state needed allies. It needed propaganda to direct humanitarian concern away from its occupation. It needed customers for its weapons industry and mines for its diamond barons. The Biafran War is a useful example of this cynical logic at work. Covert support for the Igbo separatists followed ephemeral concerns: first to not alienate the Gowon regime, second to allay concerns of Israeli humanitarians and regional allies, third to distract world attention from Israel’s newly occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza, and fourth to sell arms to whoever would buy them

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