Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame hailed Rwanda-Israel friendship Sunday in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference.
He was the first African head of state ever to address the pro-Israel forum that brings together thousands of activists, experts and elected officials.
“My message today is simple: Rwanda is, without question, a friend of Israel,” said Kagame,who is credited for putting an end to the 1994 genocide in his country.
In a refence to the genocide perpetrated against the Jews in Europe during World War II, he told an audience of close to 18,000 delegates that the shared history of tragedy has brought Israel and Rwanda much closer.
“No tragedy is so great, so vast that human ingenuity and resilience cannot give rise to a better future.” he said. “The survival and renewal of our two nations testifies to this truth.”
AIPAC, with more than 100,000 members from across the United States, works to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. It opened its three-day annual conference in Washington on Sunday.
David Victor, AIPAC’s past president, hailed Kagame for ushering his people beyond the tragedy of the past to the promise of the future. “He has transformed his nation, grown its economy, redeveloped its infrastructure and reunited its people,” he said.
Victor said he was struck by Kagame’s strong connection to Israel's story. Last year Kagame hosted Benjamin Netanyahu during the Israeli prime minister’s historic visit to Africa.
For Rwanda and many other countries in Africa, Kagame said, engaging productively with Israel has opened new horizons.
While on an African tour last year, Netanyahu announced his intention to hold an Israel-Africa summit in October.
“We are happy that Israel is engaging with Africa, has come back to Africa and Africa is responding in a good way,” said Kagame.
He said when countries share complementary capabilities and mutual interests there should be no obstacle to pursuing these together.
In 2014, when Rwanda sat on the United Nations Security Council, Kigali abstained from a resolution that advocated the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Explaining the vote, Kagame said, “We thought this was going to be prejudicial to other things that had to be addressed – allowing people to determine without allowing the parties concerned to sit and agree on what the way forward should be.”
“It doesn’t mean that when you are a friend of Israel, that you are an enemy of someone else.”
Kagame said Israel has the right to exist and thrive, as a full member of the international community.
“This is not an infringement on the rights of any other people, and should not be seen as such.”