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 President Rivlin last week. But when it came to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up at the President’s Residence on Monday to join 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 out together to meet Kagame as his car pulled to a stop in the presidential compound.
The three then stood at attention for the national anthems played by a military band and subsequently, escorted by Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Meron Reuben, they 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.
It all began with his conversation with Kagame, said Netanyahu. Thanks in part to Kagame’s help, Netanyahu will make his third trip to Africa in a span of less than three years.
Turning to Kagame he said: “You were the indispensable bridge on which we marched step by step to return to 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 carnage of genocide in their country in which more than a million people, including women and children, were butchered.
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.
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 also 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 commitment which it had made to Rwanda.