Thursday, July 7, 2016

Make use of the Bible in diplomacy - Dror Eydar

by Dror Eydar

It looks like the Africans still haven't been corrupted by the common diplomatic discourse, which has been cleaned of any religious, historical, or cultural content.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's speech at Entebbe at a ceremony marking 40 years since Operation Jonathan met with smirks and laughter. He didn't remember the name of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but what's so bad about that? Let Ahmadinejad rot. He also got mixed up between Lord Arthur Balfour and Joseph Chamberlain, the British colonial secretary who suggested to Theodor Herzl that the Jews be repatriated to East Africa under what was known as the "Uganda scheme." Fine. But unlike the wave of laughter, the speech was far from "delusional." In effect, it illustrated the element lacking in Israel's foreign policy: using religious language and thinking as another valuable tool in the diplomatic arsenal. Given the growing religious extremism we face in global Islam, it's particularly important to find common ground between the State of Israel and the Jewish people and the various forms of Christianity, as well as with the moderate leaders and streams of Islam. The people who laughed at the Ugandan president were laughing at themselves. 

Here is a key sentence from the speech, which evaded the attention of pundits: "On the issue of Israel/Palestine, we in Uganda are guided by the Bible." What do you think about that? Throughout his entire speech, Museveni made reference to the Bible. He could have focused on the Entebbe operation alone, the differences between justified battle and despicable terrorism, said a few words of congratulations and it would have been sufficient. That's how an American or European leader would have behaved. It looks like the Africans still haven't been corrupted by the common diplomatic discourse, which has been cleaned of any religious, historical, or cultural content. 

The Ugandan president ranked the rescue of the Entebbe hostages along with other biblical and historical events that linked Africa to the Jewish people and the Middle East in similar circumstances: Distress that turned into salvation. The story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken from Canaan (the land of Israel) to Egypt (which is Africa). As a devout Christian, there is great significance to the connection Museveni drew between the hostages being rescued and the baby Jesus being rescued from Herod's soldiers and being given shelter in Egypt until it was safe to return, as related in the New Testament (Matthew 2). 

The president even enlisted Muhammad's flight from Mecca was compared to the rescue of the Israeli hostages. He might have confused the first and second hijras, but the principle is what matters. In 614, Muhammad's followers "came out" as Muslims. After a year of persecution by the pagan establishment in Mecca, Muhammad sent about 100 of his followers to the king of Ethiopia, a Christian, who gave them amnesty until 622, until they joined the second hijra, when the prophet of Islam left Mecca for Medina. 

The president also countered the lies of his counterparts in Arab states and Iran that the Jews are strangers in their own land and in the Middle East "because they came from Europe" be pulling out a Bible and quoting Genesis 11:31: "Terah took Abram his grandson ... and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there." You see, Museveni told Ahmadinejad, the Jews absolutely belong to the region. They came from Mesopotamia and settled in Haran and later in Canaan; just like you, the Iranians, are perpetuating the Persian Empire that appears in the Bible. 

Museveni used Abraham's two wives: Sarah, the matriarch of the Jews and Hagar, the matriarch of the Muslims, to propose a solution for the conflict between us and the Arabs. Both peoples, he said, belong to the region. He determined that attempts to compare Israel to South Africa under apartheid rule were nonsense, that the two countries were "totally different stories," and offered his services as a go-between on the mission to achieve peace. 

The same parts of Israeli media (and politics) that are devoid of knowledge of Jewish texts and religious issues scorned what looked like a mixture of politics and myth, just like intellectuals in Europe dismissed the Islamist religious awakening in their streets. 

But anyone who is well-versed in the our people's ancient knowledge and spirit realizes the great potential that lies before Israeli statesmen (and also people in trade and economics) if they bring in the religious dimension as more common ground with their colleagues in the world. Israel renewing its relations with African nations is crucial historic event that could help break down the diplomatic wall that Israel's enemies have worked to build against it. The Israelis came to the memorial event at Entebbe, but the president of Uganda and many Africans along with him saw the representatives of the historic Jewish people, the people of the Bible. Only a blind person could miss this opportunity.

Dror Eydar


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