Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Liberian President George Weah in Jerusalem on Friday as part of the premier’s drive to strengthen ties with Africa.
This is Weah’s first official visit to the Jewish state, though the two leaders previously met in June 2017 when Netanyahu traveled to Liberia for a one-day visit promoting ties between Israel and 15 West African nations.
Netanyahu has made the effort to improve relations with African nations a foreign policy priority.
“I have met him many times and I said that I would invite him to Israel when he is president and I have kept my promise,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying after their breakfast meeting in the prime minister’s residence.
“I told him that the next time he comes maybe we will play a little football but beyond this we are cooperating in an outstanding manner,” he added, referring to Weah’s stellar footballing career before being elected president in December 2017.
“Africa is coming to Israel and so is the entire world. We are turning Israel into a rising global power,” said Netanyahu who has embarked on a number of diplomatic trips to African nations, including a recent historic first visit to Chad.
Liberia re-established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1983 after severing relations in the 1970’s.
Under pressure from African Muslim nations, accentuated by the Israeli-Arab wars of 1967 and 1973, a number of African states cut ties with the Jewish state.
Since then, many African countries have renewed them and in recent years, to improve ties Israel has held out the prospect of cooperation in fields ranging from security to technology to agriculture.
Netanyahu has traveled three times to Africa over the last two years, visiting Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda and Liberia.
During the Liberian president’s three-day visit, Weah also met Thursday with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
“You were one of the finest footballers in the world, bringing great pride to your country and continent, and great joy to many people, myself included,” Rivlin told Weah.
“I remember watching you play in the FA Cup Final in 2000.”
Voted world, European and African footballer of the year in 1995, Weah played in Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon before moving to Europe, where his clubs included Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco, Marseille and AC Milan.
He also had brief spells with Chelsea and Manchester City before finishing his career in the United Arab Emirates playing for Al Jazira.
– ‘Safe, beautiful place’ –
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion on Wednesday hosted Weah – who is a world-renowned soccer player – at a reception at the Kraft Family Sports Campus where Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz was in attendance.
After the reception, Weah, Katz, and Lion met with Jerusalem Sports Associations youth groups. The president and the mayor then proceeded to the football field to open the teams’ final match.
“Since visiting ancient Jerusalem, I am a different person. I have come to Israel and am happy to declare that it is a safe and beautiful place. I have come to strengthen the ties between our countries and help advance peace,” the Liberian leader said.
Lion, who was recently elected mayor of Israel’s capital city in December, thanked Weah for his work as a leader and athlete.
“Mr. President, you have made history as a football legend, we know you are making history as president, and today we are making history with your first visit in Jerusalem as president, by setting a true example for our youth that the sky is the limit,” he said.
“Jerusalem, since it was founded, has built bridges between people of all different backgrounds. Sports and culture serve the same purpose. This is why as mayor, I am committed to ensuring Jerusalem grows as our capital of sport. Your visit here today inspires us to work towards this goal.”