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MADAGASCAR , island off Africa. Legends and theories about alleged Jewish descent of and influence on inhabitants of Madagascar are current and widespread, but the resemblance of certain customs is probably a consequence of contact with Islam through trade activities in the late Middle Ages. Various theories and suppositions regarding affinities to the ancient Hebrews were published by a French Lazarist missionary, Joseph Briant, in a booklet entitled L'hébreu à Madagascar.

Madagascar never had a sizable Jewish population. A few score of Jewish families settled in Tananarive during the French colonial period, but no community was created.

Relations with Israel

The State of Israel was among the very first (and still few) countries to establish an embassy in the newly proclaimed Malagasy Republic (1960), and, over the years, Presidents Tsiranana and Ben-Zvi exchanged visits and Israel Prime Minister Eshkol and Foreign Minister Golda Meir also visited Madagascar. Israel activities in Madagascar include the construction of the first luxury hotel, and agricultural experts have helped to produce citrus and improve poultry breeding and corn production. In addition, about 200 people from the Malagasy Republic have undergone technical training in Israel. Relations between the two countries were close, although the intimate relationship between France and Madagascar cast a shadow over the picture after the 1967 change in French policy toward the Arab-Israel conflict. Following the Yom Kippur War, Madagascar broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, but ties were resumed in 1993.

[Zvi Loker]

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