Netanyahu accuses EU, New Israel Fund of pressing Rwanda to nix migrants deal

Left-wing group rails against PM’s ‘pathetic, shameful’ accusations, says it has nothing to do with Kigali’s refusal to cooperate with ‘cruel’ deportations

African migrants gather during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
African migrants gather during a protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on January 26, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The New Israel Fund on Monday night railed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his “pathetic, shameful” accusations that the left-wing organization put pressure on Rwanda to reject the Israeli government’s proposed resettlement of African migrants in the country.

“In recent weeks, amid enormous pressure on Rwanda by the New Israel Fund and sources in the European Union, Rwanda has withdrawn from the agreement and refused to accept infiltrators from Israel that were forcibly deported,” the prime minister wrote in a Facebook post on Monday evening, after a chaotic day in which he announced a deal with the UN refugee agency on the African asylum seekers, and then, hours later, suspended the agreement.

Netanyahu was referring to earlier government plans to deport tens of thousands of African migrants in Israel illegally, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan, to Rwanda and Uganda.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement with the UN on African asylum seekers in Israel at a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on April 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has once again resorted to lies about the New Israel Fund in order to score cheap political points. The New Israel Fund had nothing to do with Rwanda’s decision to refuse to participate in the Prime Minister’s cruel mass deportation plan,” the New Israel Fund said in a statement.

“It is pathetic, shameful, and a stain on Israel in the global arena that the Prime Minister would blame Israel’s human rights defenders for his ineptitude and his immoral policies,” it added.

The European Union’s mission in Israel also addressed the accusation in a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post.

In his earlier remarks on the agreement, Netanyahu had said the previous Israeli plan to deport migrants to Rwanda and Uganda was no longer feasible. He stressed that “legal constraints as well as political difficulties on the part of [Uganda and Rwanda]” led to the cancellation of previous deportation policies.

The earlier deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as poorly executed and unsafe. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition.

In the afternoon, at a press conference alongside Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Netanyahu had praised the new deal with the UN refugee agency, saying that it would see some 16,250 African migrants in Israel resettled in “developed” Western countries, while a similar number would be given temporary residency.

“This agreement will allow for the departure from Israel of 16,250 migrants to developed countries like Canada or Germany or Italy,” Netanyahu said, without elaborating. Other reports said the United States and Sweden would also take in some of the number.

German and Italian diplomats on Monday evening told Hebrew media they had not signed agreements to absorb African migrants from Israel.

Backtracking on the UNHCR deal, Netanyahu on Monday night said he was freezing the agreement in response to protests by Israelis.

“I hear you, and especially the residents of south Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said in a (Hebrew) Facebook post amid mounting right-wing criticism of the deal. “For the time being, I am suspending the agreement,” he added, noting that he would meet with Deri and residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants reside, before reconsidering it.

The prime minister was subsequently accused by opposition lawmakers  of caving to pressure by his coalition partners, who have expressed disapproval of the plan and said they were not consulted.

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