Netanyahu addresses Ethiopian Parliament, first Israeli PM to visit Ethiopia; PM meet with PM Desalegn who announces support for Israel’s observer status in African Union; Netanyahu: Our historical bond continued from the Solomonic-era through the rise of Christianity to this day.
Prime Minister Netanyahu finished his four-day tour to Africa, his last stop in Ethiopia where he met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn ahead of addressing the Ethiopian Parliament.
He was the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Ethiopia.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Desalegn was focused on cooperation and agreements in the areas of energy, water, agriculture and security with agreements signed in the fields of technology, tourism and science. Most significant from their meeting was Desalegn’s announcement of support in backing Israel’s observer status in the African Union, Desalegn stating “Israel is working very hard in many African countries. There is no reason to deny this observer position to Israel.”
Netanyahu’s Africa-tour centered on improving diplomatic ties with African states, increasing cooperation in the fields of water, agriculture, education, science and security, as well as lobbying for Israel’s observer status in the African Union. Netanyahu’s tour comes following the designation by his cabinet of $13 million in improving economic relations with Africa.
As with his previous meetings in the heads of African states from Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, Netanyahu gave a joint-press conference with Prime Minister Desalegn.
Netanyahu’s address (full text below):
Salaam! I am so excited to be here. My delegation is excited to be here. My wife [Sara] is excited to be here. And I want to recognize three outstanding members of our parliament [Israeli Knesset] who are also excited to be here, though they’ve been here before: Member of Knesset Avraham Neguise; former Member of Knesset Pnina Tamano-Shata; and our Ambassador here in Addis Ababa, Belaynesh Zevadia.
I am absolutely thrilled to be the first prime minister of Israel to visit Ethiopia ever. Well, what took you so long? And the answer is: I don’t know, but I’m already planning the next visit.
Ethiopia is a resplendent land, rich in history, diverse in culture, pregnant with promise. The Prime Minister said today in our meeting, he said something that is so true. He said Israel has a place in the hearts of Ethiopians and Ethiopia has a place in the hearts of Israelis, in the hearts of the Jewish people. I bring you greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, the place where I grew up and the place where the Queen of Sheba met King Solomon 3,000 years ago.
One of the most beautiful streets in Jerusalem, in the heart of the city, is a street called Ethiopia Street, and in my youth, I would pass, I would walk past the majestic Ethiopian church on it. And I felt always that it was just one expression of the enduring bonds between our peoples – bonds of history, bonds of values, and increasingly bonds of interests.
Our historical bond continued from the Solomonic-era through the rise of Christianity to this day. Our values, I think the bonds of history gave rise to the bonds of values. The birth of the Jewish people is interwoven with the birth of our freedom, the story of the exodus. We were brought from slavery to freedom to our land, the land of Israel.
You in Ethiopia, you fought for your freedom. You maintain your freedom throughout the centuries. For millennia, your nation has proudly fought for and maintained its independence. We respect you for it. We admire you for it. You resisted foreign rule and live as a free people in your ancestral homeland. And we too live as a free and independent people in our ancestral homeland. The struggle for freedom unites our two nations, as does the second value we share, which is nation-building.
Our return to the land of Israel was just the beginning. We then needed to build our state, a dynamic state, a powerful state. We recognized early on that the diversity of our citizens would be a source of great bonding. Today we draw upon the skills and wisdom of all our citizens – Arabs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze and Jews from Ethiopia. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews serve in our army, participate in our politics, take part in our economy, in our culture. They help enrich Israeli society every day and in every way. They act as a human bridge between our two peoples.
On the way here, I spoke to two young flight attendants of Ethiopian descent. They are proud to be Israelis and they’re proud of their Ethiopian heritage. And one of them is seeing her family here for the first time in seven years. What excitement! It’s the excitement we all feel in coming here and rekindling our friendship.
Our Declaration of Independence guarantees the rights of citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender. And in fact, you know that protecting the access of all in the Middle East to the freedom of faith is a great challenge. Israel today is the only country in the Middle East that fully guarantees the religious freedom for all – for Jews, for Muslims and Christians. You know that Christians are being slaughtered by ISIS and brutally repressed by the Iranian regime. In Israel, as in Ethiopia, Christians thrive, and I am proud that our Christians, the Christian community in both our countries are safe, secure and free. This is something we uphold for all religions – all religions – Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. It’s the values we should uphold everywhere in the Middle East and everywhere in the world – in Africa, in Europe, everywhere. Freedom of faith for all.”
At the end of his Africa-tour, Netanyahu reported that he had spoken with a Muslim head of state (in Africa) that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel. He could not give details as to who the leader is. Israel does not have official diplomatic ties with Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia and Sudan.