Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to Uganda on Monday, commencing a landmark four-country tour of East Africa – the first of any Israeli leader in the last three decades.

However, the day was soiled with controversy and awkwardness when Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni repeatedly referred to Israel as Palestine during his speech – a seriously embarrassing gaffe, considering the fact that Netanyahu’s visit was meant to mark the anniversary of his elder brother’s death at the hands of Palestinian militants.

That face-palm moment

The president was talking about Operation Entebbe of July 1976, in which Netanyahu’s older brother Yonatan flew some 2,300 miles from Israel as part of a small group of elite Israeli commandos sent on a daring mission to rescued hostages, most of whom were Israeli and whose kidnapping was endorsed by then-Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, from Uganda's Entebbe International Airport after an Air France flight was hijacked by the pro-Palestinian liberation movement.

“The sad event, 40 years ago, turned into another bond linking Palestine to Africa,” Museveni said. “I said this is yet another bond between Africa and Palestine because there were earlier bonding events.”

It appears that Museveni's awkward blunder was not an intentional jab at Israel but rather simply a manifestation of his less than adequate understanding of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu, whose brother was the only Israeli casualty in the otherwise successful mission, quietly sat behind Museveni as he made his speech and hardly seemed to flinch at all at the awkward remarks.

The 40-year anniversary of the event was marked with reflections on the warm relationship between Israel and Uganda although some Ugandans were upset about their government commemorating the Entebbe raid, a clear and violent breach of their country’s sovereign borders, in a positive light.

Netanyahu moves on

Israel and Uganda have had a good relationship since the Entebbe raid with Israel advising Uganda on matters of security as well as agriculture. Several Israeli businesses have also invested in Uganda.

Furthermore, the gaffe has not interrupted Netanyahu’s historic sub-Saharan tour, he has headed on to Kenya and will continue to Rwanda and Ethiopia as he looks to strengthen Israeli ties in the region.

“I think we see eye to eye on the nature of this problem, and I think Africa and Israel overwhelmingly see eye to eye on this,” he said, highlighting the recent al-Shabab terrorist attacks in Kenya.

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