Netanyahu, Rivlin hold rare joint greeting for Rwandan president in Jerusalem

PM and president invoke memory of Holocaust, Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi as part of the two nations mutual understanding of tragic legacy.

Rwanda's Kagame meets Israel's leadership, looks to 'reinforcing cooperation' (credit: REUTERS)
He didn’t do it when US President Donald Trump met with President Reuven Rivlin last month; nor did he do it when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Rivlin last week. But when Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrived at the President’s Residence on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined in greeting his Rwandan friend and colleague.
It is not uncommon for the prime minister to attend a state dinner hosted by the president of Israel in honor of the president of the United States or the president of India, but as a rule, there is a division of labor, and Netanyahu stays out of Rivlin’s domain and Rivlin stays out of Netanyahu’s.
The fact that the prime minister chose to deviate from this custom on Monday was the most telling sign of the value that Israel places on its relationship with Rwanda in general and with Kagame in particular.
Rivlin and Netanyahu went together to meet Kagame as his car pulled to a stop in the presidential compound.
The three then stood to attention for the national anthems, played by a military band, and subsequently, escorted by Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben, strode along the red carpet into the reception hall, where Netanyahu credited Kagame with helping to pave the way for Israel’s return to Africa.
“You were the indispensable bridge on which we marched step by step to return to Africa,” he said, referring to Kagame’s support of his efforts to build closer ties with Africa.
Part of the mutual understanding between Israel and Rwanda is a shared tragic legacy that was referred to by both Rivlin and Netanyahu.
Israelis live with the memory of the Holocaust, and Rwandans with the memory of the genocide against the Tutsi in which more than a million people were butchered.
Netanyahu said that he was not sure how many of his Israeli compatriots knew that Kagame had personally led the military effort to put a stop to the carnage and had begun to rebuild a torn nation.
The peoples of both countries have pledged “Never again!” said Netanyahu.
Both he and Rivlin also expressed appreciation for the way in which Rwanda stands up for Israel at international forums.
Netanyahu lauded Kagame as “a consistent friend in bilateral relations.
We don’t forget that your foreign minister visited us during our travails in Gaza,” he said. “You sent her as a show of friendship and solidarity.”
Rivlin said that he knew that this was not Kagame’s first visit to Israel, but he was also aware that this visit would serve to strengthen the existing deep relationship. He also noted how pleased Israel was that Kagame, in an address to AIPAC, had said that Israel is without question a friend of Rwanda.
Rivlin likewise noted that Rwanda is now a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council “that has always been against Israel.”
He implied that with Rwanda’s influence this may change.
Kagame said that he was very pleased to be back in Israel to reaffirm the blossoming relationship.
He also praised Israel for following through on commitments that it had made to Rwanda.
Both Netanyahu and Rivlin referred to the UNESCO vote as denying the connection between the Jewish people and Israel to Jerusalem and Hebron. Netanyahu called the resolution “absurd... a denial of history, a denial of the Bible.”
During Rivlin’s working session with Kagame, Rivlin said that the fact that the UN is using religion for political means is ridiculous, and urged the UN to “stick to the historical truth.” Israel understands disagreements and political issues that have to be resolved, he said, but not the use of political means in matters of religious issues.
Rivlin also raised the subject of Islamic State, which he referred to as ISIS, saying that what it has been doing in Yemen and Libya should serve as a warning to the entire world that the horrors of the past can be repeated.
The looming threat has turned the nations of the world into a small village, he said.
“We live in a very complicated world that never learns the lessons of history, but we can’t afford not to learn our own lessons,” responded Kagame, noting that fundamentalism is spreading to newer places, and that this is something that must be confronted.
Rivlin was particularly concerned about what is happening in Syria, and the Middle East in general, where different Islamic groups are fighting each other. “There is a war not only in Syria but within Islam, and the culture of the old world is being destroyed,” he said.
Recalling that there was a time when the enemy of my enemy was my friend, Rivlin declared: “None of the enemies fighting each other will become our friend.”