new path forward

Partnering with Israel can help U.S. expand relationships in Africa, lawmaker says

Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick traveled to Israel and Rwanda with fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this month

Office of the President of Rwanda/X

President of Rwanda Paul Kagame with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a delegation sponsored by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation. 

The U.S. should leverage its relationship with Israel to help expand its relations in Africa and resist Russia and China’s encroachment on the continent, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL) told Jewish Insider after she visited Israel and Rwanda with eight other members of the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this month.

“Part of the trip that was fascinating is that Israel was really able to speak to and understand the needs of Rwanda because of its similarities,” Cherfilus-McCormick told JI last week. “It really shows you that as the U.S. has goals of strengthening our relationships with Africa, there’s many African countries [where] we need Israel — that trilateral relationship — to really build that trust.”

Cherfilus-McCormick said that conversations with officials from the three countries, particularly Israel’s ambassador to Rwanda, highlighted Israel’s inroads on the continent through trade and technology, such as irrigation; humanitarian work; and discussions about military cooperation.

“Israel has successfully [built] this relationship with Rwanda where we have struggled, especially in recent years,” she continued. “We need to make sure we’re maximizing those relationships because, in some spaces, Israel might be the best voice to help us mend the disconnect that we may have.”

The second-term Florida congresswoman said that the trip, which was sponsored by the AIPAC-affiliated American Israel Education Foundation and was the group’s first trip to Rwanda, also highlighted commonalities in the Jewish, Rwandan and Black American experiences.

She said that the group saw “the same mechanisms in place” to dehumanize the Tutsis — the ethnic group targeted in the Rwandan genocide — like Jews during the Holocaust and Black Americans.

She emphasized that the visit also drove home that the Rwandan genocide, which took place over a three-month period in 1994, was in the very recent past and that there are still forces in the region that might wish to continue it.

“Some people feel like it’s not necessary” to continue Holocaust education and to continuously call out antisemitism and other forms of hate speech “because we’ve evolved as human beings,” she said. “But the truth is that we haven’t. And another Holocaust, another genocide is really just one step away if we don’t start really hammering down on stopping hate speech and antisemitic speech.”

Cherfilus-McCormick tied these concerns into the debate over public education regulations spearheaded by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now a leading GOP presidential candidate, in her home state. The congresswoman said that, in her district, at least one school removed the The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank’s memoir, from the school library as a result of the new regulations. DeSantis has denied that his policies would result in “book bans” in the state.

“That’s what they’re removing from our schools,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “And that’s what this ‘war on woke’ really is. It really made me realize how fragile our democracy is, and how we have to protect our democracy on all fronts.”

The congresswoman, who was first elected in a special election in 2021 to fill a mid-session vacancy before winning a full term the following year, first visited Israel on an AIEF trip in 2022. 

She said that Israel, now experiencing weekly protests over the government’s judicial overhaul efforts “is in a totally different position” than during her last visit. She echoed many of her Democratic colleagues who joined another recent AIEF delegation in saying that the U.S. should “allow Israel to make its own determinations” on its judicial system.

“What’s encouraging is seeing the democratic process at work,” Cherfilus-McCormick added. “And what was even more encouraging is even though Israel is such a small nation, it’s still committed to helping everyone. Its imprint is just… all over the world.”

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