Bill that would bar Congo’s only Jewish politician from presidency resubmitted


JTA — Supporters of a law that would bar the only Jewish politician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from becoming president are trying to pass it, in a move that has been blocked by Jewish leaders abroad.

The law, which was re-introduced to the African nation’s parliament in Kinshasa this week, would prevent anyone without two Congolese parents from running for president.

Its main effect would be to block Moise Katumbi from succeeding in his ongoing presidential bid. Katumbi is the son of a Congolese woman from a local royal family and a Greek Jew, Nisim Soriano, who fled to the then-colonial Belgian colony during the Holocaust.

“The controversial bill on nationality has been considered by the opposition as a way to block the way for Moise Katumbi, the main candidate in the 2023 presidential election and who is considered to have the best chance of defeating the current president,” a a spokesman for Katumbi told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

This is not the first time that Katumbi has come up against the bill, known as the Tshiani Law, after its proponent Noel Tshiani, a rival politician. Tshiani introduced a similar bill in 2021, when Katumbi was also running, citing concerns about foreign manipulation in the country’s elections.

“No mercenary could slide to the top of the Congolese state anymore,” Tshiani said in defense of his bill. On Twitter, he compared the legislation to a biblical command, specifically in Deuteronomy 17:15, which says, “You shall not put a foreigner over you who is not your brother.”

Katumbi has lived all his life in the DRC and on his mother’s side is an ancestor of a king of the local Lunda ethnic group.

Moise Katumbi attends a forum at a resort hotel near Johannesburg, South Africa on March 12, 2018. (AP/Themba Hadebe)

He owns a range of companies in the mining, transport and food production sectors and is one of the richest men in the country. In 2016, The Economist called him “the second most powerful man in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” after its then president, Joseph Kabila.

As governor of the DRC’s southern Katanga province, he was popular, increasing revenue in the region tenfold during his rule from 2007 to 2015 and overseeing similar leaps in access to water infrastructure and literacy rates.

Throughout his business and political career, Katumbi maintained close ties to Israel, where his father eventually moved. Katumbi visited the country many times while his father was still alive and was even suggested as a potential buyer of the Israeli soccer team, Maccabi Netanya. Katumbi already owns DRC’s TP Mazembe team.

The bill has been criticized by people inside and outside the country, with human rights organizations calling it unconstitutional, fearing it could reignite violence in the recently fractured warring state. Elections are set for December, although the current president, Felix Tshisekedi, has warned that they could be disrupted.

“I am appalled by the proposed legislation that would disqualify a prominent candidate from running for office based solely on their Jewish heritage.” said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Chairman of the European Jewish Association, who has a close relationship with Katumbi.

“This is a terrible violation of human rights and a dangerous step backwards for the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Margolin said. “I am sure that Congolese citizens will fight against this unjust bill and ensure that everyone will be able to participate in the electoral process regardless of their background. I call on everyone who believes in justice and equality to come together in this vital fight for the future of the DRC and the African continent as a whole.”

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