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South Sudan Virtual Jewish History Tour

Sudanese Jewish History

At its most populous, the Jewish community in Sudan numbered no more than 1,000 individuals, far fewer than the 260,000 Moroccan Jews or 135,000 Algerian Jews who lived in Africa at the same time. The Jewish community in Sudan dissolved after Sudan gained independence and joined the Arab league in 1956, with about 500 individuals making aliyah to Israel and the rest dispersing around the world.

The Republic of South Sudan

On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan officially declared its independence from Sudan and established itself as the world's newest country. The following day, the State of Israel officially recognized South Sudan and three days later Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with South Sudan President Salva Kiir and said that Israel would happy to help the fledgling country in “any way.”

Less than two weeks after their declaration of independence, South Sudan and Israel established and formalized their diplomatic relations. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced the establishment of ties between the two countries, issuing a statement saying “the cooperation between the two countries will be based on solid foundations, relations of equality and mutual respect.” A parallel announcement was made in Juba, South Sudan's new capital, where President Kiir met with Jacques Revach, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Africa division, and Dan Shacham, Israel’s nonresident ambassador to a number of African countries.

Though there are no Jewish citizens of South Sudan, the country and its citizens have strong ties to Israel. A number of revelers in Juba celebrating independence in July 2011 waved Israeli flags, a gesture interpreted by some as a sign of gratitude to Israel for support during years of struggle against the north. About 8,000 Sudanese migrants, many of them from South Sudan, are believed to be in Israel. One of the first topics of discussion between the two countries is likely to be the repatriation of many of these refuge-seekers.

In August 2011, President Kiir announced that he would maintain South Sudan’s relations with Israel despite pressure from Arab countries and that he wishes for South Sudan’s embassy to be built in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and not in Tel Aviv as has become custom for many Western nations due to the perceived disputes over Jerusalem’s sovereignty. That same month Danny Danon, a Likud party Knesset member, visited South Sudan and expressed hope for the future of trade between the nations. “Israel’s technological wealth and South Sudan’s wealth of natural resources are a sure recipe for prosperity in both states,” Danon said.

Israeli President Peres with South Sudanese President Kiir (Dec 2011)

In December 2011, President Kiir maed his first official visit to Israel during a whirlwind 24-hour trip in which he met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Lieberman.

“I am very moved to come to Israel and to walk on the soil of the promised land,” President Kiir said. “As a nation that rose from dust, and as the few who fought the many, you have established a flourishing country that offers a future and economic prosperity to its children, I have come to see your success.”

“This is a moving and historic moment for me and for the State of Israel,” President Peres noted. “Israel’s link with Sudan began when Prime Minister Levy Eshkol and I, as Deputy Defense Minister, met in the 1960’s, in Paris, with local leaders from southern Sudan. We provided them with extensive assistance in agriculture and infrastructures. Israel has supported, and will continue to support, your country in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it. We know that you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle East and in advancing the values of equality, freedom and striving for peace and good neighborly relations.”

In more concrete developments, Netanyahu announced that an Israeli delegation would go to South Sudan in the beginning of 2012 in order to check on how to assist the South Sudan people, who have suffered greatly in recent years, in developing their new country.

Sources: “South Sudan Leader Makes First Visit to Israel,” Yahoo News, (December 20, 2011);
“President Peres and PM Netanyahu Meet with South Sudan President Kiir,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (December 20, 2011);
 “Government Vows to Establish Embassy in Jerusalem and Not Tel Aviv,” Sudan Tribune, (August 29, 2011);
“The World Factbook: South Sudan,” CIA, (November 10, 2011);
South Sudan,” Wikipedia.

Photo of Presidents Peres and Kiir courtesy of the Israeli GPO