Photo Credit: UN Live Feed / YouTube screen capture
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to 72nd UN General Assembly

{Originally posted to the author’s eponymous website}

Last week, after a flight carrying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed on the airport tarmac in Nairobi, Kenya, one of the enduring fables of Middle East lore was dealt a withering blow.


Upon disembarking, the premier of the Jewish state, often described as “isolated” in the international arena, was greeted with all the colorful pomp and ceremony of an honor guard, as the Israeli and Kenyan flags fluttered side by side.

The brief welcoming ceremony marked the start of a whirlwind trip during which Netanyahu met with 11 African leaders who had come to attend the inauguration of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta.

One by one, they sat with the prime minister, looking for ways to expand and deepen bilateral relations with Israel in a variety of fields ranging from agriculture and sustainable development to cooperation in the fight against Islamic jihadist terrorism.

The trip marked the third time Netanyahu has visited Africa in the past 18 months, and on all three occasions he has been received with a warmth that belies the canard that the Jewish state has no friends out there in the big, wide world.

Indeed, back in June, Netanyahu visited Liberia and was given the honor of becoming the first non-African head of government to address a meeting of the regional Economic Community of West African States, known as ECO WAS, which represents a quarter of the continent’s population.

Prior to that, on his first visit to the region in July 2016, the prime minister was hailed with so much affection that it was easy to forget he represents a country with just eight million inhabitants, similar in size to New Jersey.

What makes this all the more remarkable is the turnabout it represents. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, many sub-Saharan countries moved quickly to break off relations with Jerusalem. Now, they are lining up to learn from Israeli advances in medicine, water irrigation and computer technology.

Africa is not alone in this regard. Israel’s growing roster of global pals is salient proof that the country’s alleged isolation on the world stage is an anachronistic myth.

Relations with countries as far afield as Serbia, India, Colombia, Paraguay and Panama have all flowered in recent years, marking a sharp contrast with the situation that existed just a few decades ago.

And, if recent reports are accurate, an unprecedented behind-the-scenes improvement in ties with Saudi Arabia and various Gulf Arab states is now underway.

In truth, one of Netanyahu’s biggest unsung accomplishments has been his success in broadening Israel’s foreign relations.

Perhaps influenced by his economic background from his days at MIT and then at the Boston Consulting Group, the prime minister has chosen to implement the diplomatic equivalent of diversifying one’s portfolio, the practice of spreading investments among a wide variety of assets in order to reduce exposure to risk.

By diversifying Israel’s diplomatic portfolio, through expanding the country’s ties on various continents, Netanyahu has succeeded in laying the groundwork to reduce the volatility of Israel’s international relations moving forward.

This is an enormous achievement, one that has already begun to bear fruit for Israeli exporters as well as in the halls of international institutions such as the United Nations.

But don’t expect to read too much about this subject anytime soon in much of the mainstream press. After all, highlighting Israel’s popularity would only serve to undermine the pro-Palestinian narrative that is being pushed by the Left and various journalists, who would have us all believe that the Jewish state is being shunned because of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.

Maintaining the myth of Israel’s isolation is a critical component of this strategy, which aims to compel the government to make concessions at home to win greater sympathy abroad.

But the accuracy of that equation has collapsed in the face of reality. The fact of the matter is that even as the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria has grown by leaps and bounds, so too has Israel’s popularity on the world stage.

In addition, for the media to acknowledge that Israel’s foreign relations are better than they have been in decades would require crediting Netanyahu with a major triumph, which is something many are loathe to do.

To be sure, there is no question that much remains to be done to improve Israel’s standing among the nations. But by focusing so much energy and effort in this direction, and enlarging the roster of our nation’s friends abroad, Netanyahu has done a great service to the Jewish state, and for that he should not be denied the credit that is his due.


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Michael Freund is the Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel. He writes a syndicated column and feature stories for the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s leading English-language daily, and he previously served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office under Benjamin Netanyahu. A native of New York, he holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.