AU asks members to cut scientific, cultural connections with Israel

Wednesday February 22 2023
36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU

Leaders pose for a group photo during the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU on February 18, 2023. The AU condemned what it called “the Israeli colonialist practices in the occupied Palestinian territories". PHOTO | EDUARDO SOTERAS | AFP


The African Union is asking member states to cut scientific or cultural ties with Israel until the Jewish nation stops “colonial” practices against Palestine.

The recommendation is contained in a declaration fronted to member states at the end of the recent African Union Summit last week, in which Israel had also sought approval to join as an Observer State.

The decision on the fate of Israel is still pending, following failure to achieve consensus on admittance. But the continental bloc returned the toughest commentary yet on Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians.

A declaration said the Summit would “further request member states to end all direct and indirect trade, scientific and cultural exchanges with the State of Israel.

“Moreover, to take all measures to stop such dealings in accordance with the resolutions of United Nations, in particular resolution 2334 (2016), paragraph 5, and the relevant decisions of the African Union.”

The UN Security Council Resolution 2334 calls on member states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”


Obstacle to lasting peace

And it says the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and that it is a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and lasting peace.

While some member states already have existing scientific ties with Israel including in technology and modern agriculture, the advisory on suspending such ties is the heaviest such recommendation against Israel in the bloc’s 21-year existence. Some member states may, however, still defy the bloc as the decision is simply a recommendation.

In an unusual harsh language, however, the AU condemned what it called “the Israeli colonialist practices in the occupied Palestinian territories, discriminating between the Palestinian and Israeli people on the basis of race and religion, and giving the Israelis more rights and privileges over the Palestinian landowners.”

“The international community is called on to dismantle and prohibit the Israeli system of colonialism and apartheid in accordance with the International Convention for the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid adopted in 30 November 1973.”

Thrown out

The decision came days after members of an Israeli delegation were thrown out of AU’s closed-door meetings for lacking proper accreditation. A spokesperson for the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat indicated the officials thrown out of the meeting were neither invited nor accredited. But she did suggest the final decision on Observer status was still pending before a special committee of heads of state.

Israel, once an observer member of the old Organisation of African Unity (OAU), had left the Union shortly after it was established in 2002 following pressure from Libya’s then leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Last year, Mr Mahamat had tabled the proposal to admit Israel as an Observer but South Africa and Algeria opposed the move, accusing Israel of discriminating Palestinians. When the delegation was thrown out, Israeli’s foreign ministry blamed Algeria and South Africa.

But South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor rejected the accusation.

“I was very surprised to hear the reference in very pejorative words to South Africa because I am not a security official at the African union, nor do I work for the administration of the Commission. The notion that I stand up and remove any person in a hall is quite insulting and demeaning,” she said.

South Africa, however, admits it is among those opposed to Israel’s Observer status “because we believe the continued occupation of the land of Palestinian people as well as the building of new settlements, prohibition on movement…travel on different roads than other people…are all infringements of the contents of the African Union Charter (actually the AU Constitutive Act).”

Being an Observer state means the country can't have a vote at the AU, but grants its diplomats a chance to join in high-level events and lobby for a positive policy.

Palestinian authorities are often given time to address the assembly. This year, Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh spoke at the opening session, thanking the continental body for giving his territory a voice.

The AU said it wants Palestine to be fully admitted as a UN member state.