Senegalese President Leopold Senghor today spoke harshly about the "racist" Menachem Begin government in Israel and said he doubted that there would be a renewed African dialogue with Israel as long as the conservative prime minister's government is in power.
Senghor's statement, made at a press conference, came as a "surprise," outgoing U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young said.
"Senghor is more of an anthropologist than a politician," said Young after his press conference. "He sees the world in terms of race and economics."
Young, who has been leading an eight-nation African trade delegation, has at each stop asked African leaders to consider renewing a dialogue with Israel. Most African countries, including Senegal, broke relations with Israel during the 1973 Middle East war.
Young had not raised his Israeli initiative with Senghor during a brief meeting with the president today, but reporters traveling with Young asked Senghor his opinion following his meeting with Young.
Senghor, 73, exercises considerable influence in French-speaking Africa. He broke his usual pattern of circumspect wordy answers in commenting on Young's initiative. Young was not present during the press conference.
"I don't think anything can come from a racist, non-progressive" political leadership, Senghor said about the right-wing Begin government.
Startled reporters asked Senghor's translator to repeat the response and Senghor, a linguist who understands some English, nodded his assent to the translator's repetition of his statement.
Senghor went on to say that Begin's government had tried to force Senegal into a dialogue by arresting a Senegalese soldier on duty with the U.N. peace-keeping force in Lebanon. The soldier, who was arrested inside Israel, was charged with gunrunning but Senghor maintained today that he was on a holdiay.
"The motto of the Senegalese Army," Senghor said, "is 'You can kill us but you cannot dishonor us.' Begin was trying to force a dialogue with us and trying to dishonor us."
At a press conference later with Senegalese reporters, Young said he still would encourage Senghor to engage in dialogue with Israel.
The intense democracy and vitality of Israel, Young said, makes dialogue worthwhile "whether you happen to disagree with the views of the party in power."
Senghor has close ties to Israeli Labor Party leader Shimon Peres and is a vice president of the Socialist International of which Peres is also a member. Senghor's government in 1967 was the first black African state to grant official recognition to the Palestine Liberation Organization and encouraged them to open an office here.
"Senghor has always been a champion of the PLO," said one Western diplomatic source.
Senghor, who is also a poet and a French-language grammarian, said he always has and will oppose the destruction of Israel. He said three groups who have suffered the most were the Jewish Diaspora, blacks during slavery and the Arabs under Turkish rule.
"But now we feel that the Palestinians should have independence," said Senghor, a Catholic whose country is 80 percent Moslem. "We will only renew relations [with Israel] when [the Palestinian] problem is solved."
Senghor, who is considered by many in French-speaking Africa as its leading intellectual, said a solution to the Middle East dilemma could be achieved if taken out of the religious context of Moslem versus Jew.
"The problem can only be solved when Israel is a Semitic state and Arabs can consider themselves Semitic states," he said.
Although Senghor has supported the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, his remarks indicated that he will not support Young's effort.
Liberian President William R. Tolbert, who is current chairman of the Organization of African Unity, said a couple of weeks ago he would discuss Young's suggestion with other African leaders. Tolbert is expected to raise it when he addresses the U.N.'S General Assembly later this month.
Senghor also said that an OAU-sponsored dialogue with Israel would be hard to achieve. The 49-nation body, he said is split among communists, socialists and capitalists.
"Any dialogue in a unified manner would be very difficult," he said. "The trouble is we don't think for ourselves and by ourselves," Senghor added.
"The communists get their orders from Moscow and the [capitalists] from the West," said Senghor, who is the leader of Senegal's Socialist Party. The Socialist Party is one of four political parties in Senegal.
Senghor pointed to what he claimed is the presence of 75,000 foreign troops on African soil to buttress his argument that Africa is ideologically split among communists, socialists and capitalists. He said 60,000 were from the Soviet Union, Cuba and East Germany, while Western countries had 15,000 soldiers on the continent.
"We have faced two coup attempts," Sengnor continued, "but never called for French troops." Senegal is a former French colony that still has close ties to France.
"I'm for the withdrawal of all foreign troops," he said.