In what was termed a “rambling and bizarre” speech, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was referring to Operation Entebbe, which happened 40 years ago. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Uganda on Monday, July 4 at the start of his four-country tour of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Ugandan leg of his tour was an emotional visit for Netanyahu, as together with the Ugandan President, he attended an event in Entebbe to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1976 hijacking by Palestinian militants of an Air France flight.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu starts Africa tour with commemoration of hostage rescue in Entebbe https://t.co/ijF19Y3wHk
— AFP news agency (@AFP) July 4, 2016
At the time, the hijacked plane flying from Tel Aviv was welcomed by the then dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin. However, while many of the hostages on the plane were freed by the hijackers, Israeli passengers were held under armed guard in an old terminal building in the airport.
Commandos from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched a raid to free the remaining hostages, led by Netanyahu’s older brother, Jonathan, who died during the rescue. During the raid, three hostages, 45 Ugandan soldiers, and all of the Palestinian hijackers were also killed.
As reported by the International Business Times, Netanyahu spoke on Monday, saying his brother’s death during Operation Entebbe had been a pivotal moment in his life and saying the 40th anniversary was a “deeply moving day” for him.
“Forty years ago they landed in the dead of night in a country led by a brutal dictator who gave refuge to terrorists. Today we landed in broad daylight in a friendly country led by a president who fights terrorists.”
Entebbe is always with me. Not a day goes by that I do not think what might have been. pic.twitter.com/cLz7jF4yEb
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) July 4, 2016
However, Netanyahu’s emotional speech was married when the Ugandan president repeatedly referred to Israel as “Palestine” during his own speech at the event.
Museveni’s rambling speech was dubbed “gaffetastic” by one Ugandan at the event as he repeatedly referred to Israel as Palestine.
Museveni keeps referring, seemingly erroneously, to Israel as Palestine! The looks on some of those present. Gaffetastic. #NetanyahuInUganda
— Songa Samuel-Stone (@SongaStone) July 4, 2016
He began by saying: “I want to thank him [Netanyahu] for turning this sad story 40 years ago into yet another instrument of bonding the Holy Land, Israel [and] Palestine, with the heartland of Uganda.”
Museveni continued by saying: “The sad event, 40 years ago, turned into another bond linking Palestine to Africa. I said this is yet another bond between Africa and Palestine because there were earlier bonding events.”
While Netanyahu sat silently with his wife as Museveni spoke at the podium, Israelis took to social media to criticize the speech, calling it both rambling and bizarre.
One Israeli journalist tweeted: “Translator on TV now saying Museveni’s address was the strangest and most disorganised speech he’s ever translated.”
Translator on TV now saying Museveni’s address was the strangest and most disorganised speech he’s ever translated.
— Eylon Aslan-Levy (@EylonALevy) July 4, 2016
According to a report by Voice of America, Israeli radio stations cut off the broadcast of Museveni’s speech because of his repeated references to Palestine.
However, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government later defended the speech by Museveni. Ofwono Opondo sent a tweet reading: “The whole of that land was originally known as Palestine so Museveni’s reference isn’t wrong.”
— Ofwono Opondo P’Odel (@OfwonoOpondo) July 4, 2016
Reportedly, Netanyahu’s visit to Uganda caused controversy prior to his arrival in the country, with some Ugandan government officials saying the pitch as an Israeli success overshadowed the memory of the Ugandans who lost their lives during the Entebbe raid.
According to Moses Ali, Uganda’s deputy prime minister, who also served under the dictator Amin, the country should rather be “mourning their dead ones” rather than celebrating an “Israeli victory.”
Another Ugandan man was quoted by Voice of America as anonymously saying he had lost his uncle during the raid and cannot understand why the breaching of sovereign borders is being remembered in a positive light.
“Today goes down as a sad day to these brave men who abandoned everything to serve their country. Netanyahu thinks his brother who died here is the only life that matters,” he said.
“It’s betrayal. Ugandan soldiers stood up to defend the country’s sovereignty from a foreign attack — it doesn’t matter why they attacked — they breached our borders, our soldiers died in the line of duty. You can come here to celebrate the invasion and remember Netanyahu’s brother? It’s utter betrayal.”
After the visit to Uganda, Netanyahu continued his tour to Kenya on Tuesday and then headed to Rwanda and Ethiopia to continue joint discussions on regional security and investment.
Reportedly another aspect of the Israeli Prime Minister’s tour is to improve relations between Israel and African nations, who have consistently backed Palestine’s bid for statehood in the UN general assembly.
[Photo by AP Photo/Stephen Wandera]