AU summit: Diplomatic uproar as Israeli delegate expelled

By The Africa Report, Jaysim Hanspal

Posted on Sunday, 19 February 2023 16:12
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, attend the opening of the 36th Ordinary session of the Assembly of the Africa Union at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. REUTERS

Israel’s delegate to the African Union was unceremoniously expelled Saturday, causing a diplomatic uproar over how the official gained access to the AU's plenary hall in the first place.

Several delegates who were in the room told The Africa Report they had seen Israeli diplomat Sharon Bar-Li being escorted from the hall during the gathering’s closed session. Video footage of the incident was later posted online.

Israel has blamed Algeria and South Africa for the incident. However, an Algerian delegate says his country was not responsible. A delegate from South Africa refused to comment.

“Israel looks harshly upon the incident in which the deputy director for Africa, Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was removed from the African Union Hall despite her status as an accredited observer with entrance badges,” Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in a statement.

In 2021, Israel regained its observer status, two decades after it was revoked. In February, the AU formed a committee of seven heads of state to review the decision, following objections from several member states.

Some diplomats are therefore questioning how Israel gained access to the hall. An internal AU Commission memo, seen by The Africa Report, says the body had granted accreditation to Israel’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Alily Admasu, not to Bar-Li.

[The AU Commission is] investigating how unauthorised individuals were able to enter the plenary

“The individual in question is not known to the AU Commission as the duly accredited Ambassador of Israel to Ethiopia and was duly asked to leave,” reads the memo, which also says the invitation was “not transferrable”.


Some delegates have questioned why Israel was granted accreditation at all since the heads of state committee has not delivered its verdict on whether to reinstate its observer status.

The committee – consisting of leaders from Algeria, Cameron, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, and South Africa – is scheduled to decide on the matter next year.

“Israel was not technically supposed to be in the room because it’s not an observer until there is a decision, so how they got accreditation, I don’t know,” said one southern African diplomat.

Another diplomat from North Africa was equally surprised that Israel was in the room, saying “they were not supposed to be there”.

The AU Commission is “investigating how unauthorised individuals were able to enter the plenary”, spokesperson Ebba Kalondo tells The Africa Report.

The incident has been seen as an embarrassment for Israel, which has been seeking to deepen its ties with African states by opening embassies and establishing trade links in recent years.

Israeli–Palestinian conflict

The AU has been consistently supportive of Palestine, with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh addressing the opening ceremony on Saturday.

During a rousing speech, Shtayyeh likened Palestine’s struggle against “a new form of terrorism” to European colonialism in Africa.

“You have proceeded us towards liberation, but we are still fighting the last settlement occupation of Israel,” he said. “This government falsifies history, violates human rights and allows the killing and displacement of Palestinians after the demolishment of their homes.”

Shtayyeh also cited the recent violence in the West Bank, which has resulted in 15 Palestinian fatalities so far this year, including 11 children.

An Israeli military raid against the Jenin refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians last month, while retaliatory attacks by Palestinian actors have resulted in several Israeli deaths, leading to fears of a potential third intifada.

Israel is in direct violation of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, which would require intervention on behalf of the UN, Shtayyeh said. “We know that the US will veto us, but how long will the international community be silent?”

During Saturday’s opening ceremony, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the League of the Arab States, reiterated his organisation’s support for Palestine and the resolution of the conflict through the two-state solution.

“The Palestinians are suffering from an occupation that can only be described as apartheid. This takes place as the international community watches and seems to have forgotten their role,” he said.

However, Comoros’ President Azali Assounmani, who assumed the chairmanship of the AU on Saturday, took a more diplomatic position, saying that under his direction the AU would support constructive dialogue between the two sides. “The problem of Israel and Palestine will be our priority.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options