Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni (L) speaks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a memorial service to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe at the Entebbe airport in Uganda, July 4, 2016. .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ENTEBBE – “He’s the Ugandan Donald Trump,” a colleague quipped after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni finished delivering a rambling speech at the ceremony here Monday marking 40 years since the Entebbe raid.
Except for one huge difference.
Trump wants to be president; Museveni has been president of his country for more than 30 years.
That type of longevity, it seems, gives a man certain privileges. And this is where the similarities to Trump kick in. Like Trump, the Ugandan president seemed to be shooting from the hip.
The address got off on a rather different note when Museveni said that the sad events of the raid 40 years ago was being turned into another instrument of “bonding the Holy Land – Israel/ Palestine – with the heartland of Uganda in particular, and Africa in general.”
While the sentiment was noble, calling the land which his honored guest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, represented as Israel/Palestine was a bit, odd.
Lest one think that this was just a slip of the tongue, the Ugandan president said that another sad bond between “Africa and Palestine” took place in the biblical story of Joseph.
Citing the Book of Matthew, he then said that Jesus was hidden in Egypt from Herod – whom he termed a “bad gentleman” – another event binding “Africa and Palestine.”
His constant references to “Palestine” led some to wonder whether Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in the crowd.
But then it became clear he meant Israel, even though he was saying Palestine, when he said that the Entebbe rescue operation of 1976 is therefore yet another bond between the two areas growing out of adversity.”
Then he launched into some comments that surely found favor in Netanyahu’s ears: that liberation movements don’t use terrorism, that people can’t be freedom fighters and murder innocent people.
He also said that Uganda cannot accept the “bigotry” that holds that either the Jews or the Palestinians don’t belong in the Holy Land.
He said this is a message that he says “when I meet my friends the Arabs, or the Iranians. This is what I tell them. I want to tell them that you are all mentioned in the Bible.”
He regaled the crowd with a tale of a meeting he had with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – whose name he could not remember – and rejected the Iranian leader’s claims that the Jews came from Europe, not the Middle East.
No, he said, “I showed him in the Bible. We cannot accept the bigotry that either of you do not belong,” he said, before discussing the so-called Uganda Scheme of the early 20th century, when the British colonial secretary at the time, Joseph Chamberlain, agreed in principle to settling Jews in Uganda.
Museveni attributed the plan not to Chamberlain, however, but to Lord Balfour, who issued the Balfour Declaration. Referring to the Uganda plan, and what he said was Balfour’s role in it, he asked, “How could you be foreign minister when you are so ignorant?” He praised the Jews for not accepting the plan, saying that this was clever, because “otherwise we would be fighting you now.”
The line elicited peals of laughter from the IDF soldiers in the crowd.
Netanyahu’s face, as shown on a large screen at the ceremony, revealed little of what he was thinking. And then he joined Museveni and six other African leaders to discuss how to combat terrorism.