Netanyahu Accuses U.S. Human Rights Group of Foiling Asylum Seeker Deal With Rwanda, Says Will Investigate

PM slams New Israel Fund: Its 'ultimate goal' is 'to erase Israel's Jewish character' ■ NIF retorts: We had no contacts with Rwanda, Netanyahu 'crossed every red line'

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in Jerusalem on April 2, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in Jerusalem on April 2, 2018.Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Tuesday that the New Israel Fund, a U.S.-based human rights organization, was behind the Rwandan government's decision to pull out of a previous agreement to deport African asylum seekers from Israel to Rwanda.

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"The main source that applied European pressure on the Rwandan government to pull out of the agreement to remove the infiltrators from Israel is the New Israel Fund," Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page.

The prime minister blasted the human rights organization as a "foreign organization that receives funding from foreign governments" with the ultimate goal of "erasing the Jewish character of Israel."

Netanyahu went on to say that due to fund's alleged activity, he had instructed the launching of a parliamentary investigation into the group, which he claimed "jeopardizes the security and future of the State of Israel as the country of the Jewish people."

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The New Israel Fund blasted Netanyahu in an official response, saying the prime minister had "passed every single red line" with his remarks.

"The fund did not have any contacts with the government of Rwanda. All the information about the New Israel Fund's activity and organizations is accessible, transparent and reported," NIF said, adding, "This is a battle on democracy."

An English-language statement released later Tuesday night by the group added: "Mr. Netanayhu, you want to investigate us? I'll answer any question you like."

The Israeli left also responded to Netanyahu's accusations against the NIF, with chairman of the Zionist Union, Avi Gabbay, writing in a Facebook post: "Lame and sad- the prime minister lost all shame when his process of decision-making and subsequent failure to claim responsibility were revealed to the public." Tamar Zandberg, the newly-elected head of the left-wing Meretz party, tweeted that she made a contribution to the New Israel Fund and called on the public to "join the battle against incitement."

On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu announced that the agreement in question with Rwanda was cancelled, making way for a new deal signed with the UN refugee agency to resettle the asylum seekers in Western countries.

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Less than 24 hours later however, the prime minister announced that Israel was cancelling the deal with the UN, too, following pressure from within his party and from coalition members.

Later on Tuesday it emerged that Netanyahu is now examining several options for a deportation plan. Among them is the possibility of finding a different country in Africa (not Rwanda or Uganda, which are off the table) that would agree to take in asylum seekers. Yet another option is to reopen the Holot detention facility, which was recently closed.

According to sources in the coalition, the government looked into promoting a legislation Monday that would enable the incarceration and expulsion of the asylum seekers, a bill that is opposed to a Supreme Court ruling.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) have both said in the past that they would support such legislation, even if it includes a clause that allows the Knesset to pass the law again should the Supreme Court block it.

Bennett took to Twitter Tuesday night to express his support of deportation anchored by law. "As we said multiple times, we support the re-legislation of the law to prevent infiltration, including a clause that would prevent the Supreme Court from blocking the law."

"This will create an incentive for the infiltrators to leave Israel," the education minister wrote. "We fully back the prime minister in promoting that clause and expect the law to be passed quickly."

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