Baffled Rwanda denies Netanyahu claim that NIF pushed it to scrap migrant deal
'Rwanda doesn’t know what this New Israel Fund is all about'

Baffled Rwanda denies Netanyahu claim that NIF pushed it to scrap migrant deal

Olivier Nduhungirehe says his government not at all familiar with the Israeli NGO, adds that suggesting a foreign organization could sway his nation’s policies was preposterous

Detained African migrants standing outside the Holot detention center, located in Israel's southern Negev desert near the Egyptian border, February 4, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP)
Detained African migrants standing outside the Holot detention center, located in Israel's southern Negev desert near the Egyptian border, February 4, 2018. (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP)

Rwanda’s minister of state for foreign affairs on Wednesday vehemently denied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that the New Israel Fund put pressure on the African nation to reject Jerusalem’s proposed resettlement of migrants in the country.

Olivier Nduhungirehe further said that his country was not at all familiar with the NIF or its agendas, and added that implying a foreign organization could manage to sway his government’s policies was preposterous.

“I am extremely surprised by this statement,” Nduhungirehe tweeted, referring to Netanyahu’s accusation. “My surprise comes less from the fact that Rwanda doesn’t even know what this New Israel Fund is all about, but more from the assumption that a foreign NGO can successfully impose any pressure on a sovereign government named Rwanda.”

Netanyahu on Tuesday declared that he is seeking to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the activities of the New Israel Fund, which he blamed for the failure of Israel’s plan to deport African migrants from the country.

Netanyahu claimed the NIF put pressure on Rwanda to reject Jerusalem’s proposed resettlement of African migrants in the country, forcing him to seek other solutions.

The New Israel Fund firmly denied the allegation. Its CEO Daniel Sokatch said in a statement: “The New Israel Fund did not pressure the Rwandan government to refuse to participate in Netanyahu’s cruel mass deportation plan. We did support massive numbers of Israelis standing up for what is right and demanding action from their own government.”

Sokatch added that “This isn’t about NIF. It’s about all of us — everyone who cares about democracy and equality in Israel. It’s time for everyone who cares about Israeli democracy to stand up and stand together against this blatant assault on Israeli civil society from an increasingly desperate and flailing PM. Mr. Netanyahu, you want to investigate us? I’ll answer any question you like.”

The Netanyahu deal with the UN — which would have seen some 16,250 African migrants in Israel resettled in “developed” Western countries, while a similar number would be given temporary residency — was cancelled by the prime minister due to heavy domestic criticism just a few hours after he proudly announced it.

The premier provided no proof of the left-wing NGO’s involvement in Rwanda’s alleged scrapping of its agreement with Israel, which led to a new short-lived agreement with the UN’s refugee agency.

On Tuesday, Rwanda’s Nduhungirehe denied that any deal had ever been signed with Israel to absorb migrants deported from the Jewish state, adding that his country has “a general open policy on the refugees but our condition is that those migrants must be willing to come to Rwanda without any form of constraint.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Nduhungirehe told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster news that “there was never a deal with Israel, neither in writing, nor verbally.” He was responding to Netanyahu’s claim that Rwanda had backed out of a deal that had been in the works for two years.

Israel had previously claimed two unnamed African countries were willing to accept the migrants, with media reports identifying the states as Rwanda and Uganda.

Later that day, Uganda’s foreign minister, Henry Okello Oryem, also denied the existence of any agreement with Israel, and said that if any migrants deported from the Jewish state arrive in the East African nation “we will insist that the airlines return them to the country where they came from.”

In a dramatic about-face, Netanyahu declared Monday night that he was freezing a new agreement with the UN refugee agency, announced earlier in the day, that would see thousands of African migrants given temporary status in Israel and others deported to Western countries. He formally canceled it the following morning.

The agreement with the UN, which was meant to replace the discarded deportation “deal” with Rwanda, was dropped amid fierce criticism from parts of the prime minister’s right-wing base.

“For the past two years I have been working with Rwanda so that it will serve as a third-party country to absorb the infiltrators expelled there, even without their consent,” the prime minister said, explaining that he had been forced to seek out a deal with the UN.

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

“Rwanda agreed to this and we began deporting people there,” Netanyahu continued. “In recent weeks, due to the tremendous pressure on Rwanda from the New Israel Fund and the officials in the European Union, Rwanda backed out of the agreement and refused to accept any more infiltrators from Israel.”

It was the first time any Israeli government official named Rwanda as a “third-party country,” confirming widespread reports.

The New Israel Fund denied any involvement in Rwanda’s decision to back out of the deportation deal. The European Union’s mission in Israel also addressed the accusation in a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post.

Israel’s previous deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the UN as chaotic, 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.

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