DRC breaks ground with embassy move to Jerusalem
Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi’s recent announcement of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC’s) decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, has been hailed as a significant diplomatic development.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met the DRC president in New York on Thursday, 21 September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
The two leaders agreed that Israel would open an embassy in Kinshasa, while the DRC would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) welcomed this “bold decision”. The DRC is the first major nation in Africa to take this decision, and leads the path for others to follow, said SAZF National Chairperson Rowan Polovin.
Steven Gruzd, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told the SA Jewish Report that Israel would “be thrilled” that the DRC wanted to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
“Opening an embassy in Jerusalem is significant. It definitely signifies Israel’s strengthening relations with the DRC and Africa more generally,” Gruzd said. “Not many countries have done it since the United States [US], some small countries, but slowly, Israel is starting to chip away and get more countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem.”
He said it went in the opposite direction to the one taken by South Africa. “South Africa withdrew its ambassador in Tel Aviv in 2018, and he hasn’t been replaced since, whereas in this case, Israel and an African country are advancing diplomatic relations. South Africa remains loyal to the Palestinians. More ties are always better than fewer ties. I believe South Africa is missing out in many ways due to its hostile attitude towards Israel.”
Polovin said Israel and Africa were “coming back together in unison with the climate of peace and normalisation of the Abraham Accords. This auspicious occasion offers further testament to the strengthening of bilateral ties between African nations and Israel, which presents a partner of opportunity, growth, and sustainable development in Africa,” he said.
The announcement by Tshisekedi, the former chairperson of the African Union, again outlines how the African National Congress government is increasingly out of touch with Africa and the shifting sands of the Middle East, he said.
“In Africa, Morocco, Chad, and Sudan have normalised relations with Israel against a backdrop of historical peace agreements that have effectively ended the Arab-Israeli conflict. Malawi has already announced its intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem,” Polovin said.
“To date, Israeli technology and initiatives have brought clean running water and renewable solar energy to more than five million people across our continent. South Africa stubbornly sits on the sidelines.”
With its new embassy in Jerusalem, the DRC will join the US, Kosovo, Guatemala, Honduras, and Papua New Guinea, the latter having been inaugurated at the beginning of September, becoming the fifth foreign embassy to establish a presence in the capital city.
Fiji will open an embassy in Jerusalem in 2024.
Soon after the meeting of the Congolese and Israeli leaders, Netanyahu said in a joint statement with the Congolese president, “We have just had a very fruitful conversation with the president of the DRC, and we have agreed that Israel will open an embassy in Kinshasa, and that the DRC will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“These are two good announcements, and they reflect our shared desire to strengthen relations.”
Tshisekedi agreed, saying, “I can confirm that we had excellent talks with the Israeli prime minister which focused on our excellent relations and ways of strengthening them,” he said. “We also discussed how to bring the two countries closer together through the development of more investment projects in security and cyber defence. May G-d bless relations between Israel and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The two leaders also discussed strengthening co-operation between the two countries in the fields of agriculture and trade.
According to The Times of Israel, the Congolese leader appointed an ambassador to Israel in 2020 after a two-decade gap, and promised at the time to open a commercial section in Jerusalem.
He then visited Israel in 2021, telling President Isaac Herzog that his country wanted to “develop the best possible relations with Israel”.
During his visit to the US, Netanyahu reportedly secured pledges from both the DRC and Paraguay, reinforcing the move to open embassies in Jerusalem.
The move to relocate embassies to Jerusalem is part of Israel’s efforts to solidify the city’s status as its capital, although many countries refrain from acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, creating complexities in international recognition.
In August, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen secured Paraguay’s commitment to reopen its Jerusalem embassy, reversing a prior relocation to Tel Aviv. According to reports, Paraguay President Santiago Peña confirmed the embassy’s return to Jerusalem by the end of the year, while Israel will reciprocate by reopening its embassy in Asunción.