DAKAR, Senegal (JTA) — A crowd of 1,000 people celebrated Israel’s 65th anniversary in the predominantly Muslim nation of Senegal.
“Israel very much values its warm ties with Senegal, which is an island of stability in an unstable region,” Israel’s ambassador to Senegal, Eli Ben-Toura, told the crowd of religious leaders, businessmen, artists and diplomats who gathered Tuesday at Dakar’s Grand National Theater to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
Ben-Toura told JTA that Israel has trained hundreds of Senegalese farmers in advanced agricultural techniques over the years.
“Usually when African governments approach Israel it’s either about agriculture or defense systems,” he said. “But we want to go further and believe that cultural exchange is also a major element.”
The embassy arranged a modern dance performance by Ido Tadmor, the artistic director of the Israel Ballet, and 40 local dancers.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry is installing two experts in agriculture in Senegal as well as a depot service for equipment, Ben-Toura said. Israeli researchers are also trying to eradicate snail fever, a parasitic disease, in the country’s north.
In December, the Senegalese government granted an oil exploration license to Elentilo, a mining company owned by the Israeli businessman Jacob Engel.
The Islamic insurgency that erupted last year in neighboring Mali has not affected Senegal’s more liberal and pro-Western society, Ben-Toura said, “but there is major concern and action on the part of Senegalese authorities to prevent radical Islam from trickling in.”
Senegal severed its relations with Israel in the 1970s under pressure from Arab countries, along with most other African nations. Relations were restored in 1994, though Senegal does not have an embassy in Israel.
“The government is interested in opening one, there’s recognition it needs to happen,” Ben-Toura said.