The Jews of Nairobi and the Religious Roots of Kenya-Israel Relations

Sept. 12 2022

In 1905, the Seventh Zionist Congress fiercely debated—and eventually rejected—an offer by the British government to create a Jewish homeland in its East Africa colony. Although this offer is remembered by posterity as the Uganda plan, the territory in question was in fact located in what is now Kenya. Jews had by that time already come to Nairobi, today the Kenyan capital, to do business, and in 1912 they established the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation. In recent years, Kenyan converts to Judaism have helped to revive the community, which now numbers about 600. Robert Carle writes:

For most Kenyans, Pentecostal and evangelical Christianity leads to a more direct engagement with Jews and Judaism. Israel’s new ambassador to Kenya, Michael Lotem, sees religious ties as central to the success of Israeli-Kenyan relations. “Religiously, Kenyans are attached to Israel,” he said. “Israel is the holy land, and they feel close to Israelis.” One of Ambassador Lotem’s goals is to increase religious exchanges between Israel and Kenya.

Kenyans’ religious engagement with Judaism often leads to political support for the state of Israel. President Daniel arap Moi established diplomatic relations with the state in 1988, and every Kenyan president since has maintained friendly bilateral relationships with Israel. Kenya’s current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, visited Israel in February 2016, and in July 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Kenya to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe. In 1976, the Israeli Defense Forces, with the support of the Kenyan government, rescued 102 hostages who were being held captive in Entebbe, Uganda. Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan Netanyahu, died in the Entebbe raid.

Moi’s tribe, the Kalenjin, have dietary rules and rites of passage that mirror some of the laws in the Hebrew Bible. The Kalenjin, for example, don’t mix meat and milk. At times, Moi speculated that the Kalenjin might be one of the lost tribes of Israel.

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More about: African Jewry, Benjamin Netanyahu, Conversion, History of Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Jewish-Christian relations

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship