Breaking with West, Israel backs Rwanda in renaming genocide

Hours before row with Poland, Jerusalem accused of supporting rewriting of history elsewhere, in reported quid pro quo with Kigali over migrants

From left to right: Honore Gatera, the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and Rwandan President Paul Kagama, in Kigali, Rwanda, July 6, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
From left to right: Honore Gatera, the director of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara, and Rwandan President Paul Kagama, in Kigali, Rwanda, July 6, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel backed a UN resolution pushed by Rwanda to designate a day of memory for the country’s genocide as specifically against the Tutsi ethnic group, supporting a move widely seen as downplaying the deaths of thousands of Hutus during the 1994 civil war.

The resolution passed Friday renames the “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda,” marked on April 7, as “International Day of Reflection on 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.”

The resolution was opposed by the US and European countries, but won support from Israel, days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

A young Rwandan girl walks through Nyaza cemetery outside Kigali, Rwanda, on November 25, 1996, where thousands of victims of the 1994 genocide are buried (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

Over 1 million people were killed in a matter of months during the Rwandan genocide, some 800,000 of them from the Tutsi minority at the hands of the Hutus, who then held power in Kigali. Tens of thousands of Hutus are also thought to have perished and 2 million people from the ethnic group were forced into exile when the Tutsi, led by Kagame, took power in Rwanda.

The new measure, which amends a 2003 resolution, specifically designates the genocide as against the Tutsi, but also notes that “during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Hutu and others who opposed it were also killed.”

Noa Furman addresses the General Assembly on September 27, 2017. (Cia Pak/UN)

Speaking at the General Assembly Friday, Israeli envoy Noa Furman said the systematic genocide had been aimed against the Tutsis, recalling Israel’s own efforts to memorialize the Holocaust.

“By remembering the crimes of the past, we express our commitment to prevent them from happening in the future,” she said, according to an internal UN report on the session.

However, a senior Foreign Ministry official told Israel’s Channel 10 news that Jerusalem had backed the Rwandan measure as part of a quid pro quo with Kagame, over the absorption of African migrants Israel wants to deport under a new Knesset law.

Protest leaders denounced Rwandan President Paul Kagame, yelling “Don’t forget, you were a refugee in Uganda as well!” on January 22, 2018 outside the Rwandan embassy in Herzliya. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised deals to send migrants to third-party countries in Africa.

Meeting Wednesday, Netanyahu and Kagame agreed that Rwanda would only take in refugees under a mechanism recognized by international law, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu told ministers on Sunday that Rwanda is a fitting deportation destination for African asylum seekers as the United Nations is already taking care of nearly two hundred thousand refugees in the African state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 24, 2018. (GPO)

Netanyahu and Kagame have strengthened ties in the past few years, with Netanyahu becoming the first prime minister to visit Rwanda and two visits from Kagame in the past two years.

Israel’s backing of the Rwandan measure came as Poland passed a law criminalizing assigning blame for the crimes of the Holocaust to Poles, drawing harsh rebuke from Israel, including Netanyahu, who has called it an attempt to rewrite history.

“There’s a direct line between Kagame’s rewriting history and the Polish government rewriting history,” the senior diplomat told Channel 10. “It’s too bad we are taking part in it.”

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