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Israel backs Rwanda in UN debate over 1994 Genocide

Israel backed this week a UN resolution supporting the changing of the name of the international day of remembrance of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This position runs contrary to both the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU), two of Israel’s strongest Western allies.

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

The Rwanda-initiated resolution, passed on Friday, January 26, 2018, renames the “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda,” conventionally commemorated on 7 April, as “International Day of Reflection on 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.” According to the Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations, Her Excellency Valentine Rugwabiza, the resolution clarifies that the genocide was carried out “against the Tutsi.”

However, the U.S. and EU worry that the new name does not encompass the other groups who experienced violence during the genocide. It is estimated that 800,000-1,000,000 persons were slaughtered by the end of the genocide, with only 500,000 of them ethnic Tutsi. The rest are considered to be Tutsi sympathizers or moderate Hutus.

Israel is the only Western-allied country to support this resolution. According to Israeli reporter Barak Ravid, Israel defied U.S. objections and supported the resolution based on an understanding made between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Netanyahu is seeking cooperation with Kagame over the return of African asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda. It is important to note, however, that this agreement, while an important facet of the diplomatic relationship between the two nations, has not been met with overall approval; on Wednesday, February 7, thousands of asylum seekers and Israeli protesters gathered outside the Rwandan embassy in Israel to protest the immoral disregard for the rights of refugees.

During the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Netanyahu and Kagame met to further discuss the terms of the agreement. Netanyahu fully supports the understanding between the two nations as long as all parties abide by international law. Netanyahu and Kagame have strengthened ties in the past few years, with Netanyahu being the first Israeli prime minister to visit Rwanda, and Israel receiving two visits from Kagame in the past two years.

   
  
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    Netanyahu and Kagame meeting at Davos, January 24, 2018. Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Netanyahu and Kagame meeting at Davos, January 24, 2018. Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

This decision to vote in favor of the resolution establishes another example of Israel’s growing political and economic role in sub-Saharan African affairs. Today, Israel remains engaged in deep political dialogue with sub-Saharan African countries, which it expressed through repeat visits of Israeli diplomats to the region. Furthermore, Israel has exhibited profound interest in the economic security of the region, as Israel is currently working to support agricultural technology development for the economic growth of sub-Saharan Africa. This decision especially highlights Israel’s key connection with Rwanda, whose tragic genocidal pasts have created a special bond between the two African nations.