For the first time ever, the leader of an African country will speak at the annual conference of AIPAC, the influential pro-Israeli lobby. On Thursday, AIPAC published a list of confirmed speakers for the conference, which will take place next weekend in Washington, D.C., and one of those featured on the list is Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
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Haaretz has learned that Kagame, who is expected to appear in person before the conference crowd, will be the first African national leader to speak before the conference. Kagame, who has been ruling Rwanda since the year 2000, is known as a strong ally of Israel, who has visited the Jewish state multiple times, and also hosted Prime Minister Netanyahu on a state visit to his country last July.
Kagame has stated in the past that he looks at Israel as an example of how to revive a nation following a genocide. In recent years, security and economic cooperation between the two countries has increased, and Rwanda has also become involved in a controversial agreement with Israel, in which Israel sends asylum seekers from different African countries to Rwanda.
Kagame was hailed for most of his first decade in power for raising Rwanda from the ashes of the 1994 civil war and genocide, yet in recent years, his rule has come under criticism for violations of human and civil rights, including alleged jailing and harassing of political opponents and critical journalists. In 2015, Rwanda's citizens voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to amend the country's constitution so that Kagame could remain president until the year 2034. The move was criticized by the United States and the European Union.
Kagame is the only foreign leader scheduled to speak at this year's AIPAC conference. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who initially planned to attend the conference, is currently leaning towards not showing up. Netanyahu visited Washington in February, and has since gone on state visits to Australia, Singapore, Russia and China. Another international speaker at the conference will be former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who led his country from 2006 to 2015.
The list of U.S. politicians who will speak before the conference includes Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and reps. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD).