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

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.

Read more at Religion Unplugged

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

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy