“We call on you to make it clear to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu – Rwanda will not take refugees who do not come of their own free will,” the open letter reads. “We urge you to use your friendship with Netanyahu to remind him – Israel is a country of refugees, it should open its heart to those who have fled Eritrea and Sudan and give them shelter.”
NGOs opposing deportation argued that Rwanda was not absorbing the migrants, pointing to cases in which migrants deported from Israel were then expelled from Rwanda as well, and not permitted to keep the money Israel gave them upon their departure. The Supreme Court accepted this argument when it struck down the deportation policy.
The letter written in November was signed by ASSAF-Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel; the Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; Hotline for Refugees and Migrants; and Kav La’Oved-Workers’ Hotline – all of which have received support from the New Israel Fund. Amnesty International Israel and HIAS Israel also signed the letter.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was for, against, and then again in favor of deporting African migrants, announcing an agreement with the UN High Commission for Refugees to absorb half of them on Monday, and canceling it the same day.
Netanyahu publicly blamed the New Israel Fund, which provides funding to civil society organizations in Israel, many of which identify with the left, for the cancellation of the government’s previous plan to deport single, male migrants. According to Netanyahu, the NIF contacted the government of Rwanda, which had agreed to absorb some of the migrants, and convinced them to change their mind.
The prime minister’s shifting of blame was interpreted by many as a way to distract from his quick flip-flop on the issue of migrants.
Rwandan Minister of State Olivier Nduhungirehe dismissed the claims on Twitter Wednesday, writing: “I am extremely surprised. Rwanda doesn’t even know what this New Israel Fund is all about.”
When asked on Sunday what Netanyahu was referring to specifically when he pointed to the NIF, a spokesman said the prime minister’s remark was a general one. He declined to comment on the letter from NIF grantees.
New Israel Fund CEO Miki Gitzin said he did not know about the letter until recently.
“We’re not connected to it,” Gitzin said. “We aren’t accountable for everything our grantees do.”
Gitzin also pointed out that the letter is an open one, not one that was mailed to Kagame.
“Unless the president of Rwanda Googled himself, there’s no way he’d know about it... The letter was an open letter when Netanyahu visited Africa. This is like if BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions movement] wrote an open letter to Netanyahu, and then saying Netanyahu is connected to BDS,” he remarked.
Furthermore, Gitzin said, if such a letter led Rwanda to cancel an agreement, it’s a failure of Israel’s foreign policy, led by Netanyahu, and should be investigated.
Between Tuesday evening, when Netanyahu targeted the NIF, and Friday, the organization received a massive spike in contributions, with NIS 300,000 coming in from 2,000 Israelis, 95% of whom were first-time donors, which the organization said was unprecedented. An NIF spokesman called Netanyahu “a world champion fund-raiser.”
Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirzu, a right-wing NGO that has campaigned against the NIF for years, called the umbrella organization "a foreign political organization that has been subversively working against Israel and IDF soldiers for years, and now has stepped out of the shadows to act as the opposition party to the legitimately elected Israeli government. The time has come for the NIF to stop its subversive activities."