Botswana is believed to be the lynchpin of an elaborate plan by Israel to stem the tide of growing international isolation over its violation of human rights, an international human rights organisation has claimed.
Pro-Palestinian solidarity and human rights organisation (Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions) (BDS) South Africa chapter’s claims follow reports that President Ian Khama recently bid farewell to 35 Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN) students who will be on a 11- months agriculture practical training in Israel.
Botswana is bucking the emerging international trend to boycott Israel. South Africa’s Parliament recently refused to meet a delegation from the Israeli Knesset (parliament) in protest against Israel’s settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Reports indicate that this followed a decision of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) Parliamentary Caucus to reject a request from the Israeli Ambassador Arthur Lenk for the South African Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on International Relations to meet a delegation from the Israeli Knesset.
“The disquiet of our Parliament arises from among other concerns the Israeli Knesset having passed legislation which retrospectively legalizes settlements into Palestinian territories, thus undermining the Two-State Solution the South African government supports,” ANC parliamentary spokesperson Nonceba Mhlauli was quoted as saying.
Botswana’s Minister of Agricultural Development and Food Security Patrick Ralotsia on the other hand recently met Israeli ambassador, Gershon Kedar, to appreciate progress made in establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on how best Botswana could benefit from Israel on agricultural technologies. This does not only signify Botswana’s willingness to do big business with Israel but also brings Botswana into a long term economic commitment with Israel.
While the international community seems to be moving away from Israel, Botswana on the other hand has been moving towards strengthening its relationship with the Benjamin Netanyahu government since President Lt Gen Ian Khama ascended to the presidency in 2008.
Israeli diplomacy with Botswana proceeds with the same “mantras” as in the sixties and seventies: military support, intelligence logistics and agricultural technology as a bonus.
Since 2008, Israel has emerged as the single biggest intelligence support partner for Botswana, especially the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS). Vlatacom, the Israeli company believed to have paid about P 1million towards the purchase of Directorate of Intelligence and Security Services (DISS) Director General, Isaac Kgosi’s farm in Sentlhane Farms has received about half a billion Pula ( P500 million) worth of tenders from the DISS and Office of the President (OP) between 2008 and 2015.
A local lawyer who was engaged as a convayencer by the DISS Director General for the controversial plot at Sentlhane farms told the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime that the spy chief informed him that he was buying the plot on behalf of the Israeli Secret Service which was planning to set up a sleeper cell in Botswana.
Another Israeli company, Nikuv International Projects, has been awarded tender worth more than P200 million in Botswana, mostly from the then Immigration and Citizenship, Civil and National Registration.
The Botswana government is currently in secret talks with Israeli cellular phone reverse engineers elite hackers and vulnerability researchers – Cellebrite Mobile Synchronization Ltd – as part of a plan to build a huge surveillance complex in Botswana. A Botswana Police Crime Intelligence Branch (CRIB) comprising head of the branch Nunu Lesetedi, Assistant Commissioner of Police Technical and Cyber Intelligence Kealeboga Keeditse and Cyber Intelligence and Forensic Officer Nonofo Dichabe were in Israel two weeks ago to negotiate a cooperation agreement with the Israeli company. As part of the agreement between the Botswana government and Cellebrite, the Israeli company will set up a mobile forensic laboratory in Gaborone for CRIB, the Botswana Crime Intelligence Branch.
Both the DISS and CRIB also have business dealings with Verint, the Israeli company that provides monitoring and intercept capabilities to service providers and government organizations. Verint has in the past been implicated in an American eavesdropping scandal after it allegedly bugged the US telecommunications grid for the American National Security Agency (NSA)
The ruling Botswana Democratic Party also engaged the services of Israeli company, Timor Consulting to help them win the 2014 general elections. The Israeli company was allegedly recommended to BDP by the DISS.
The recent student exchange between Botswana and Israel is believed to be part of a bigger plan to frustrate international efforts to boycott Israel.
BDS spokesperson, Kwara Kekana has revealed that Israel is involved in programs targeting schools and universities abroad (including in Africa) by, among other things, setting up exchange programs.
“In fact, Israel has set aside a budget of 59 million Rands for work to be done on university campuses and among students in an attempt to break the boycott and it seems that this exchange program with Botswana is part of that political agenda,” said BDS.
The organisation’s spokesperson further claimed that “Botswana and its young people seem to be used by Israel in this instance. Israel tries to suggest that it is doing some of its work in Africa because of humanitarian concerns but this is far from the truth.”
Israel is becoming increasingly isolated due in part to the efforts of the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“The BDS movement, shaped on the anti-apartheid boycott campaign, seeks to isolate Israel until it ends its human rights abuses. In this context of isolation Israel is attempting to break that boycott by reaching out to countries like Botswana and specifically through, for example, student exchange programs,” she said.
Kekana said “that Botswana’s cosying up with an Apartheid state like Israel is disappointing.”
“Firstly, Israel’s oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people is indisputable with various human rights organizations and other groups including structures of the United Nations all condemning Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people,” said Kekana.
She said Botswana seems to be hypocritical by, on the one hand, condemning human rights abuses but on the other hand continuing ties with countries like Israel which is guilty of human rights abuses.
“During Apartheid, Botswana was vocal against South Africa but slow on imposing sanctions. We hope that with the case of Israel Botswana will be committed to both condemning Israel’s violations of international law as well as taking actions, like imposing sanctions,” Kekana said.
She said “we hope that Botswana will rethink its decision to engage with Israel and will choose to be on the right side of history. There are various alternative countries that can be approached instead of Israel.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had not responded to Sunday Standard queries at the time of going to press.