July 30, 2011 -- New York -- AJC applauds the establishment this week of formal diplomatic relations between Israel and South Sudan. Africa’s newest nation declared independence on July 9.
"It is gratifying that South Sudan has entered into mutually beneficial ties with Israel,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “We celebrate the courage of those Israelis and South Sudanese whose dedication over the decades to nurturing relations under difficult conditions made this day possible.”
AJC, through its Africa Institute and Project Interchange program, contributed to the evolving relationship.
Israel-South Sudan interactions began as early as the late 1960s, when leaders of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, waging an insurrection against the North from the South, and impressed by Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, reached out to Jerusalem.
Visiting Israel was a punishable offense in Sudan, and southerners maintained ties with Israel at great personal risk. The Islamist regime in Khartoum not only refused to engage Israel, but Sudanese passports included language explicitly stating that they were valid everywhere except for Israel.
A large South Sudanese diaspora in Israel advocated for ties to be formalized, and the Israeli government found ways to engage constructively with the leadership in Juba, mainly through Mashav, the international cooperation division of Israel's Foreign Ministry.
Non-governmental organizations also played a critical role. AJC's Africa Institute visited South Sudan in 2008 to meet with government officials and learn of ways in which the diaspora in Israel might be involved in the state-building efforts in preparation for independence. The AJC visit was carried out in cooperation with the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, Samaritan's Purse, and HIAS. AJC’s Africa Institute also introduced senior members of the South Sudanese leadership to officials in Israel's Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Through AJC Project Interchange, a senior public health official from Juba visited Israel in October 2010. He was part of a delegation of East African medical research doctors exploring joint projects with colleagues in Israel.
AJC's Africa Institute was established in 2006. Its director, Eliseo Neuman, has been a key liaison with South Sudanese leaders.