KIGALI, Rwanda – The similar experiences of the Jewish and Rwandan people, who both endured genocides in the 20th century, underline that incitement to violence must be confronted before it can lead to mass murder, and that countries must always be able to defend themselves by themselves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, held immediately after he visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Netanyahu said it was “jolting” to learn more about the fate of more than 1 million Tutsis killed in 1994.
“My people know the pain of genocide, as well,” he said. “This is a unique bond that neither one of our peoples would preferred to have. Yet we both persevered, despite the pain, despite the horror. We survived, we never lost hope. You never lost hope. Today Israel and Rwanda are successful states and models for progress.”
“Both Jews and Rwandans have learned valuable lessons from the tragic past,” the prime minister went on. “Genocide is preceded by incitement to mass murder. Words matter. They have the power to kill.”
Netanyahu spoke at length about the two genocides, and the crucial lessons to be learned from them.
Ahead of the Rwandan genocide, radio broadcasts “dehumanized people long before they were slaughtered,” Netanyahu noted. “You asked for the broadcasting to stop, it was part of your battle against genocide began. And you were unsuccessful.”
“The Nazis, too, began dehumanizing Jews long before they started murdering millions of our people. So today when we see leaders in Gaza calling for the murder of every Jew around the world, we all have a duty to speak up,” Netanyahu said. “When we hear the supreme leader of Iran calling for the annihilation of Israel, we have a duty to speak up. We have a duty to alert the world to the danger of these hateful words.”
Another lesson to be drawn from the two genocides, Netanyahu continued, is that “in difficult times, we must be able to defend ourselves, by ourselves.”
During the Rwandan genocide the UN peacekeepers stationed in the small East African nation failed to keep the peace, the prime minister said. “They not only failed to keep the peace. They failed to respond to urgent calls for salvation against an impending genocide. They ran away. We cannot, neither one of us, outsource our safety and our security.”
“No one will defend you if you don’t defend yourself,” he said. “They many not even defend you if you can defend yourselves.”
Both peoples have witnessed the failure of the international community to prevent genocide, he charged, and have learned “that we have to have the capacity to defend ourselves, by ourselves. This is the most important lesson of the genocide that we have suffered, and that you have suffered. And what I do, and what I dedicate my life to, is to make sure that we don’t have such a tragedy in the future.”
The first measure to be taken against genocide denial is to tell the truth, the prime minister went. “The second is to understand that incitement and brainwashing and hatred always precede mass murder. That’s been the experience of our people, and the experience of your people.”
At the press conference, Netanyahu also rejected international criticism of his recent decision to build additional housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Both the US State Department and the European Union have harshly criticized those plans.
“Building in Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim is not, with all due respect, distancing peace,” Netanyahu said. “What is preventing peace is the ongoing incitement against the existence of Israel within any borders, and it is time for the nations of the world to recognize that truth.”
Jerusalem is willing to enter direct bilateral peace talks with the Palestinians “with no preconditions,” the prime minister added. However, it is Ramallah that is refusing to negotiate. “These are the things that prevent peace, and not another couple of apartments (built) by the Ma’aleh Adumim municipality or in east Jerusalem.”
Asked whether the Rwandan and Israeli leaders discussed the issue of African asylum seekers in Israel, Netanyahu replied by disputing that most of the African migrants in Israel are actually in need of political asylum.
“They don’t seek asylum in Israel, they seek jobs in Israel,” he said. “They are 23-, 25-year-old people, able-bodied. They come to work in Israel. If they need asylum, they will get asylum, but if they want jobs then we have an organized system of receiving them.”
For his part, Kagame said the issue is “not a taboo” and that “many discussions take place on this issue between Israel and Rwanda.”
Before the press conference, the ambassadors of the two countries signed several joint declarations of intent on agriculture and on issues relating to bilateral cooperation.
In recent years, Rwanda has been a staunch ally of Israel, notably abstaining in 2014 vote on a resolution advancing the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council.
Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu was greeted by Kagame and a 100-strong honor guard at the airport, from which he headed straight to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Earlier this week, Rwandans marked Liberation Day, remembering the end of the genocide. Some 250,000 Tutsis are buried at the site of the museum.
Netanyahu and his wife Sara visited the wing dedicated to the Rwandan genocide, the wing dedicated to genocide in other countries – including several large panels about the Holocaust — and the Children’s Room, which highlights dozens of the genocide’s youngest victims.
“We are deeply moved by the memorial to the victims of one history’s greatest crimes – and reminded of the haunting similarities to the genocide of our own people. Never again,” the prime minister and his wife wrote in the memorial center’s guestbook.
After visiting the museum, Netanyahu laid a wreath at a wall on the museum compound. On the wall it was written in Kinyarwanda, “To remember and be sustained.”
Rwanda is the third stop on Netanyahu’s current four-nation tour through East Africa. He has previously visited Uganda and Kenya. On Thursday he will visit Addis Ababa for meetings with the Ethiopian president and prime minister. He is also scheduled to deliver a speech in the Ethiopian parliament.