September 1, 2009 / 4:04 PM / 10 years ago

Israel's Lieberman takes diplomacy drive to Africa

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addresses a commencement ceremony at a local college in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, August 23, 2009. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s foreign minister visits Africa this week in a bid to boost trade ties and drum up diplomatic support in a continent where pro-Arab sentiment has long been strong.

Founded in what had been British-ruled Palestine, Israel was admired by many south-Saharan nations as a post-colonial success. But such African sympathies soured after Israel’s 1967 occupation of land now sought by Palestinians for a state.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and an Israeli business delegation will visit Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana during the week-long tour beginning on Wednesday.

“It has been more than 20 years since an Israeli foreign minister visited sub-Saharan Africa, and now the aim is to reinvigorate our political and economic relations,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Lieberman.

African nations often vote in blocs in U.N. forums where Israel is a frequent target of censure. The Israelis are also trying to enlist support for international pressure on their arch-foe, Iran, to abandon its disputed nuclear programme.

Lieberman last month toured Latin America, another region that had not been high on Israel’s diplomatic agenda.

Palmor said Israel sees Kenya as an African power-broker. Nigeria is a top client for Israel’s defence exports.

Ethiopia has an ancient Jewish community, tens of thousands of whose members moved to Israel in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of those who stayed behind await Israeli approval to immigrate.

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