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South Sudan President Salva Kiir Makes First Official Visit to Israel

1:30 PM, Jan 7, 2012 • By FAITH J. H. MCDONNELL
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Arab leaders had much to say about their “mosquitoes” when Salva Kiir announced full diplomatic relations with Israel and desire to build South Sudan’s future embassy in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv. Kiir told Israeli Knesset Member Danny Danon during his visit to South Sudan in August that Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh told him “that as an Arab state, his country should cut ties with Israel.” (italics added) Kiir informed them that South Sudan was not an Arab state. And following Kiir’s visit, Sudan’s former prime minister, leader of the National Umma Party, and friend of the U.S. State Department, Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi, declared Kiir’s visit “wrong and whoever thought about it is a devilish and a traitor and let us down [us] who are keen on close relations between the states of north and south.” Al-Mahdi really has no say over what the sovereign nation of South Sudan does, but as he believes that The Mahdi, the twelfth Imam, is to spring from his progeny, he does tend to have an exaggerated opinion of himself.

Whether or not it was deliberate, Kiir had visited Israel on the first day of Hanukkah. Upon his departure that night, Peres presented him with an antique menorah. Perhaps the South Sudanese see their own resistance to Islamist imperialists in the story of Hanukkah and the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes’ prohibition of worship and the forced imposition of another religion. Miraculous victory over a brutal, well-equipped army is just one more shared experience that connects Juba and Jerusalem, across almost 1900 miles.

Faith J. H. McDonnell is Director of the Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan at The Institute on Religion and Democracy.

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