Congo to pursue relations with Israel after two decades

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo said his Christian faith inspired him to renew ties with the Jewish state and he will appoint an envoy to Israel within the next few days.

“After more than 20 years of inadequate representation, I will name an ambassador in the coming days,” President Felix Tshisekedi said at the AIPAC convention in Washington on Sunday.

His announcement was met with thunderous applause at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference.

“I invite Israel to raise its diplomatic and economic presence in my country as high as relations can go between our two states and peoples,” Tshisekedi said. “This nation is a source of inspiration. It teaches us what man can do in such a short span of time when he has drive, resilience and, especially, divine grace and favor.”

However, Tshisekedi would not open an embassy in Jerusalem, which is Israel’s capital, instead opting to place an ambassador in Tel Aviv and open a commerce center in Jerusalem.

Tshisekedi said he would visit Israel sometime this year.

This is another sign of warming relations between Israel and African countries. Benjamin Netanyahu has strenuously pursued normalizing ties with many nations in Africa during his tenure as prime minister, and has been largely successful.

In another significant announcement at AIPAC, the president of Serbia announced his intention to open an “official state office” in Jerusalem.

“We are in a very complex situation in our region. And you should understand all the difficulties we are facing. But I want to say that we’re trying to find the best possible way to do something officially in Jerusalem,” Aleksandar Vučić said. “And we are going to open very soon not only an office of our Chamber of Commerce. But together with our Chamber of Commerce — the official state office in Jerusalem with Serbian official flag alongside with our embassy in Tel Aviv.”

“That’s our way of showing respect to Jewish people,” he added.

So far, only the U.S. and Guatemala have moved their embassies to Jerusalem, but many countries including Brazil, the Czech Republic and Australia have trade or cultural centers in the city while Hungary and Honduras said their offices in Jerusalem have diplomatic status.

“Since [US President Donald] Trump’s declaration on the embassy move Israel has seen a number of countries moving in the same positive direction,” said Israel’s ambassador in Belgrade, Alona Fisher Kamm. “We expected from our good friends, like Serbia, to join these countries. President Vučić’s declaration is a positive and significant step forward in our bilateral relations.”

President Reuven Rivlin called Vučić a “dear friend” and welcomed his announcement.

“Another sign of the strong and deep relations between our countries and peoples. May many others follow,” he wrote on Twitter.