(JTA) — The ancestry of the son of a Jewish refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo has emerged as a flashpoint for a political crisis that is threatening the integrity of the massive African country.
The crisis came to a head last week when lawmakers loyal to President Felix Tshiseked introduced a bill that would restrict the presidency to those with two Congolese parents.
It’s a thinly veiled move against Moise Katumbi, one of Congo’s most popular politicians, whose father was a Greek Jew who fled the Holocaust in Europe and settled in Congo, where he married a local woman, Katumbi’s mother.
A vote on the bill has not been scheduled, but the measure is already angering Katumbi’s large supporter base and raising fears of a return to political violence in Congo. Rivalries and interethnic hostility have triggered human tragedies on a massive scale in the land of 5.4 million people.
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association and an ally of Katumbi, condemned the bill, saying it’s “an outrage that in 2021 a person can be disqualified for having a Jewish parent.”
Complicating matters further is the fact that Katumbi hails from the province of Katanga, a mineral-rich area in the country’s east with a history of secessionism that he served as governor. The attempt to block Katumbi’s path to the presidency is rekindling secessionist tendencies there.
On Monday, 10 great chiefs — community leaders wielding significant followings, influence and money — threatened to support secession if the bill is passed. The U.N. peacekeeping mission head in Congo, Bintou Keita, in connection with the crisis warned last week against the “dangerous consequences of a divisive debate about nationality,” Reuters reported.