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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 16, 2017 im a Kobi Gideon/GPO Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (left) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Netanyahu's arrival in Liberia Sunday. By Adam Abrams JNS.org Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited western Africa this week as part of a broad government initiative to expand Israel's influence on that continent, following Netanyahu's historic trip to eastern Africa last year. The objectives of Israel's pivot towards Africa include improving the outcomes for the Jewish state on U.N. votes, expanding economic cooperation, curbing Iranian influence in Africa and estab- lishing diplomatic relations with Muslim-African states. Netanyahu's Africa trip in 2016 was the first visit to the continent by a sitting Israeli prime minister in 29 years. According to the Prime Minister's Office, Israel aims to enhance collaboration with African states in areas includ- ing "agriculture, desertifica- tion and climate change, wa- ter, trade, education, health, homeland security, cyber and communications, energy, cul- ture and science," as well as in the fight against terrorism. "The purpose of this trip is to dissolve this majority, this giant bloc of 54 African countries that is the basis of the automatic majority against Israel in the U.N. and international bodies," Netan- yahu told reporters Saturday night, before departing for Liberia to address 15 African nations at the Economic Com- munity of West African States (ECOWAS) conference. "This is the first time they have invited the leader of a non-African Country to ad- dress them. I very much ap- preciate it. Israel is returning to Africa in a big way," said Netanyahu. Upon arriving in the Li- berian capital of Monrovia, Netanyahuiaccompanied by a large diplomatic delegation, including Ethiopian-Israeli Member of Knesset Avraham Neguise (Likud)--was greeted by Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Netanyahu then met with MarcelAlain de Souza, president of ECOWAS, to discuss how to advance Israel's economic cooperation with the African bloc. Netanyahu addressed the 15 member states of ECOWAS, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, C6te d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Libe- ria, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sen- egal, Sierra Leone and Togo. "This has been a dream to come here to this organization in west Africa. And there is so much...that we can do for the betterment of our peoples," Netanyahu said. Due to Netanyahu's pres- ence, Morocco's King Moham- med VI cancelled plans to attend the conference. A major goal of the Israeli government's multifaceted "return" to Africa is to es- tablish diplomatic relations with Muslim-African states. The first fruits of this effort came last summer, when Ne- tanyahu travelled to east Af- rica for the 40th anniversary of the 1976 hostage rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda, which resulted in his brother Yoni's death. During the visit, Netanyahu visited Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda. The Israeli leader met with the presidents of Somalia and Kenya, two countries that had severed diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016. Following the trip, Netan- yahu restored diplomatic rela- tions.with Guinea, a Muslim- majority country and the first African nation to sever ties with Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War. Days later, Dore Gold, then the director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, met with the president of Chad, another Muslim-African na- tion that has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Netanyahu's courting of Muslim-African states con- tinued this weekwhen he met with Senegalese President Macky Sall on the sidelines of the ECOWAS conference. After the meeting, Israel and Senegal immediately restored full diplomatic ties and agreed to pursue joint economic and agricultural initiatives. Israel and Senegal had sev- ered ties after Senegal cospon- sored last December's United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which de- nounced Israel's settlement policy, and labeled eastern Jerusalem and its Jewish holy sites as "occupied Palestinian territory." At the time, Israel recalled its ambassador to Senegal and suspended its aid programs with the African nation. Netanyahu met with sev- eral other African heads of state at the ECOWAS gath- ering, including Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Netanyahu and Akufo-Addo agreed to foster warm relations. Mali, a Muslim-majority country, has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Dr. Moshe Terdiman, found- er and director of the Research of Islam and Muslims inAfrica (RIMA) think tank, explained the interplay between Israel's outreach to Ghana, Mali and Niger. "Israel has had prior rela- tions with Mali and Niger, but these were conducted behind the scenes and were often problematic. After Netan- yahu's meeting this weekwith Akufo-Addo, the diplomatic relationship is starting to come out in the open," Terdi- man told JNS.org. "Following the terror at- tacks in France in 2015, when world leaders walked down the streets of Paris to express solidarity with the victims, Netanyahu was walking to- gether with the president of Mali at his side. Therefore, these relations are not some- thing new, but something that has now become more overt," Terdiman added. During this week's African summit, Netanyahu also signed a deal to invest $1 billion in renewable energy projects in all 15 ECOWAS member states during the course of four years. In Octo- ber, Netanyahu will visit Togo for an Africa-Israel confer- ence, resuming his diplomatic push on the continent. By Ben Sales (JTA)--A professor at a central California university 'says pro-Israel groups pres- sured the school to disband a search committee for aMiddle East studies professor. But lo- cal Jewish leaders cast doubt on that claim, and say they weren't even aware the search was taking place. The search to fill the newly created Edward Said Professorship in Middle East Studies at California State University, Fresno, was in its final stages in April, when it was canceled. Vida Samiian, a linguistics professor at the university, said the search committee folded because pro-Israel groups and individuals ob- jected to the politics and heritage of the four finalists. Samiian, a former dean of the school's College of Arts and Humanities, resigned in protest. "By closing the search, the Administration carried out the vicious and discrimina- tory attacks launched by Israel advocacy groups against the search committee and the four finalists who were of Mid- dle Eastern and Palestinian ethniclty," Samiian, who for years has been sharply critb cal of Israel, wrote in an olSen letter last month announcing her resignation, adding "the big taboo has always been and remains Israel. Any critical discussion of Israeli policies or Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine would be met with a campaign of harassment and intimidation." Education professor Joe Parks, the equal employment opportunity representative on the search committee, went further--pointing a finger not only pro-Israel interests, but telling the Fresno Bee that "the search was canceled because when the finalists came to campus, the Jewish faculty complained." But leaders at all of the city's major Jewish institu- tions dispute the allegations. They said they were unaware of the search committee until reading news articles about its cancellation. Among those who spoke with JTA, none knew of any effort by pro-Israel groups to influence the search. - 600 sq. ft. $600 a month Including most utilities Located in the Heritage Building, Fern Park, FL For information, please call Jeff at 407-595-6062 'If it happened, I don't know anything about it," said Rabbi Rick Winer, of the Reform Temple Beth Is- rael, which with 300 member families is Fresno's largest synagogue. Winer gives guest lectures at the university, and said he's a local point of contact for national Jewish groups. If such groups were to protest, he said, "They would nor- mally call me and at least let me know, and even more so, usually ask to enlist the help of local Jewish organizations. The first I heard of this was the initial media report, which indicates to me that it was pretty unlikely that any well- known Jewish organizations were involved in this." Parks, Samiian and pro- fessor Jill Fields, who runs the school's Jewish studies program, did not respond to JTA requests for comment. The professorship at issue is named for Edward Said, the late Palestinian-American Co- lumbia University literature professor and Palestinian rights activist. The search committee was chaired by Professor Partow Hooshmandrad, the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Endowed Faculty in Persian Language & Culture. She was unavailable for comment. California State University, Fresno, also denies the al- legations, saying the search committee was canceled because it was not made up of faculty from the Philosophy department, where it was to be housed. A letter from the university president also says an "unauthorized party was participating in the search committee's deliberations, and that this party was shar- ing perspectives potentially influencing the committee." The letter, sent today from University President Joseph Castro, denies that outside pressure influenced the de- cision. The selection process slated to restart next year, according to Castro._. "During the search, neither of us, nor any other University official was pressured by any individual or group to cancel the search based on candi- dates' ethnic background or political point of view," the letter said. "In particular, the Academic Affairs individuals who made the decision to cancel the search and reopen it next year were not exposed to any pressure from any source at any point in time during the search." The controversy recalls a similar one concerning Ste- ven Salaita, a professor who was offeredatenured position at the University of Illinois, but whose hiring was then revoked due to several con- troversial anti-Israel tweets he wrote. In 2015; a federal judge allowed Salaita's lawsuit charging that the university violated its contract with him to proceed to trial. The uni- versity settled with Salaita for $600,000, plus $275,000 in legal fees. Other Fresno-area Jewish leaders, including local Jew- ish federation director Phyl- lis Farrow; Ephraim Hajdis, president of the Conservative Congregation Beth Jacob; Cynthia Fischer, and an active lay-leader at the nearby Beit Shalom synagogue, among others, said they were not aware of the search com- mittee. "What she's saying is not founded," said Hajdis, who added that while commu- nity members have protested Samiian's anti-Israel activism in years past, they have not done so in months. Hajdis says Samiian has a track record of pro-Pales- tinian and anti-Israel activ- ism that makes her claims unsurprising. In 2003, she participated in the campus event "Palestine Day," which included lectures accusing Israel of apartheid. In 2014, she signed a faculty letter sup- porting a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution targeting Israel in a University of California union. Fresno is a central Califor- nian city of about 500,000,- nestled in the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley. The city is home to several thousand Jews, and Winer says the Jew- ish presence at the university is extremely small. Among more than 24,000 students, Winer estimates that as few as a dozen are Jewish. The tiny Jewish population, he said, generally makes Israel a non-issue on campus. "There's next to no conflict between the Israel lobby and the Palestinian lobby on cam- pus because there's no Jewish presence," he said.