African Union expels Israeli from observer seat

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African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

African Union security guards blocked Israeli delegate Sharon Bar-Li from entering the African Union hall at the 2023 AU Summit in Addis Ababa on Feb. 17, Reuters reported.

Israel had been unilaterally granted observer status at the AU by the AU Commission Chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat of Chad, who is the chair of the Commission, now in his second four-year term. His term in office will end in 2024. The African Union Commission (AUC) is the AU’s secretariat and undertakes the day-to-day activities of the Union.

Although the Commission runs the everyday affairs of the AU, it is subservient to the AU general assembly, consisting of the chairperson and staff of the AU, elected annually, and the collective body of the 55 members of the organization. On Feb. 18,  AU members elected Azali Assoumani, president of Comoros, as chairman for the year 2023-24.


On July 22, 2021, Faki illegally granted Israel observer status at AU. This followed 20 years of trying since the old OAU was phased out. Israel had been granted such status under the leadership of the so-called Monrovian group, but was delisted with the creation of the AU. 

“By granting the observer status to Israel, I acted in full compliance with my prerogatives and powers,” Faki said.  “But, I respect the decision of the summit.”Within only a few days, sharp criticism from Algeria and South Africa denounced Faki’s unilateral decision to grant Israel observer status in July 2021. Algeria and 13 other AU members petitioned to deny observer credentials to Israel. Member nations such as South Africa said the AU Commission chair had not been properly consulted about the decision, which they said contradicted numerous AU statements – including from Faki himself – in support of Palestinians.

While the AUC chair is obligated to accept all applications for observer status, he does not have the authority to grant the status. Only the AU as a whole, with two-thirds of the majority voting, can grant observer status. At least 72 non-African nations have observer status at the AU. 


During the early phase of the controversy in 2021, P.L.O. Lumumba, director of the Kenya School of Law, explained to The Grio’s Mark Lamont Hill that the AU is justified in barring Israel from its summits. “The creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was a victory for the neo-colonialists, namely France and England,” Lumumba said. The two colonial powers had a major influence over the nonrevolutionary group of newly-liberated African States known as the Monrovia Group, as opposed to the pro-unity, autonomous Casablanca group led by Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Jomo Kenyatta, and another five or six Panfricanist chiefs of state.

The old OAU was phased out in 2002 and the African Union was established in 2003. In its current iteration, it has officially 55 member states, but four of its members – Mali, Guinea, Sudan, and Burkina Faso – are suspended due to rebel takeovers and the suppression of human rights. 

“Given the history of Israel, as a nation that is undermining the interests of the Palestinians,” Lumumba said, “they ought not find a place at the table of an organization which has a history of struggle for decolonization. It is in that context that I won the objection to the presence of Israel at the AUC.”


Israel’s claims of antisemitism have no validity, Lumumba says. “Let us be bold about this,” the senior lawyer says. “We know the history of Israel. Israel has played the antisemitism card too quickly even when there are other critical issues at play. There is nothing antisemitic in taking the position that you have got to treat other people right if you’re going to sit at the table where people are equal partners. Antisemitism is a card being played to make others have a sense of guilt. And it is one that we should reject in this case.”

The Arab Parliament, the legislative branch of the Arab League, welcomed the decision. “This decision corrected the previous individual position of the African Union chairperson, Moussa Faki, and affirmed that African support for the Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people will not be drained and will not be affected by any attempts of the Israeli occupation,” their statement said.

The Palestinian political party Fatah said the ruling is in line with the historical positions of the AU in support of the Palestinian cause and against colonialism and apartheid. As late as Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres raised concerns as dozens of Israeli hooligans attacked the unsuspecting Palestinian town of Huwara Sunday, setting fires to several Palestinian homes and vehicles and killing at least one adult male in the attack.

“We are gravely concerned by the escalating violence in the occupied West Bank, and strongly condemn the acts of terrorism and violence in Huwara.” Guterres called for peace and for all perpetrators to be held to account.

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African Union expels Israeli from observer seat

By Earnest McBride
March 7, 2023