UPDATE: A survivor of Rwandan genocide writes a scathing critique of this event and Jews lending support to Paul Kagame.
Reading the NY Times, I was shocked to find a full-page ad entitled Genocide: Do the Strong Have an Obligation to Protect the Weak? It was an ad for a event in New York devoted to the Rwandan genocide.
What struck me especially about the ad was that the pictures of the speakers were even larger than the headline and meant to promote them as much or more than the topic. The speakers featured were Paul Kagame, president of Rwandan and accused murderer of numerous political foes; Elie Wiesel, once a Nobel laureate and now a neocon mouthpiece and beneficiary of the largesse for John Hagee, Sheldon Adelson (whose title in the ad is “Global Holocaust Memory Philanthropist, whatever that means); Michael Steinhardt, hedge fund manager, GOP neocon, and co-founder of Birthright; and Shmuley Boteach (“America’s Rabbi”), most recently failed GOP candidate for a NJ Congressional seat.
The event is Boteach’s “baby.” His website hosts the publicity about the event and his organization, This World, is the sponsor. The event is pitched as a program hosted during UN Week (during which the General Assembly meets) and the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.
The entire enterprise appears to be an unseemly alliance between a dictator looking to cleanse his reputation and a bunch of grasping neo-con Jews who are desperate to change the subject from Israel’s horrible PR in the world press. Besides killing political opponents, Kagame is playing an instrumental role in another regional genocide: Congo. Over 4-million have been killed by the various rebel armies operating on its territory. Uganda and Rwanda are among the most prominent supporters and suppliers of these rebels. Such an event offers Kagame a wonderful PR opportunity.
Israel’s Role in Rwandan Genocide
Israel, as a seminal article in Maariv pointed out, played both sides against the middle in the Rwanda civil war. Even before the slaughter commenced in 1994, Israel was supplying weapons officially to the Hutu-led government, which used them to fight against rebel forces under Kagame’s command. Israeli arms suppliers continued covertly selling to the genocidal militias who murdered 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis. This from the book The Arms Fixers:
“Seven large cargoes of small arms worth $6.5 million were flown from Tirana [Albania] and Tel Aviv between mid-April and mid-July 1994 to the [Interahamwe] forces as they carried out the genocide, even during the time when the mass killings were being reported daily by the international news media.”
Leibowitch-Dar’s article exposes the key role that one of these Israeli black-market weapons dealers played in the genocide. Separately, in the midst of the killing, Israel’s environment minister (!), the redoubtable progressive, Yossi Sarid stood on the Zairean border with Rwanda telling Maariv in an interview:
We [Israel] have no control over where these weapons end up.
The Maariv reporter also says that Israeli personnel also were inside the country training the militias. Though of course there were other countries as well more than happy to supply the genocidaires.
Israel doesn’t let ideology or friendships get in the way of doing business though. Israel supplied Kagame’s forces as well. This from Maariv:
[Despite official Israeli denials,] Israelis were however involved with arms shipments to the Rwandan government and the rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front based in [then] Zaire, at whose head stood Paul Kagame. Despite the fact that Kagame was a member of the victimized Tutsi tribe, his movement too was involved in many acts of murder. During the genocide Kagame’s troops also killed thousands as they extended their control throughout the country.
After the slaughter, Israel officially expressed outrage at what had happened and likened it to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. Israel sent humanitarian aid and medical units to establish a hospital to treat the victims. It never once acknowledged either its official or unofficial role in the genocide. Once Kagame came out on top, all was forgiven and relations have been close ever since.
Apparently, Kagame takes a view of Israel akin to that of David Ben Gurion during the Holocaust. He didn’t care who he did business with if it strengthened Israel. So Israel and Kagame have become good pals, as Boteach’s event attests. Most recently, Kagame visited Israel last June for meetings with Pres. Peres and PM Netanyahu.
Smuley Boteach, Humanitarian
Note the mission listed for This World is:
This World: the Jewish Values Network is Committed to Advancing Universal Jewish Values in the Media and Culture and to Affirming the Jewish People as a Light Unto the Nations.
This time last year and in years past these individuals were busy during UN Week attending anti-Iran events hosted by the Israeli Mission or various far-right pro-Israel organizations. Of course, they may still do that this week. But their newfound enthusiasm for African dictators seems a deliberate attempt to change the subject. American Jews have grown increasingly tired of Bibi’s Iranian “the sky is falling” routine. The news from the Occupation is equally bleak. BDS is taking on a momentum of its own despite Israel’s best efforts to promote the new counter-concept of delegitimization.
Curiously, the ad doesn’t contain a single reference to the country which is an idee fixe for all of these men: Israel. Adopting Rwandan genocide seems like a slightly bizarre attempt to change the channel when the news looks bad. Aside from Wiesel, you’d be hard-pressed to find any world hotspot any of these gentlemen has expressed any concern over unless it involved Jewish victims.
A reader pointed out in the comment threads another country whose name goes unmentioned in the ad: Syria. Boteach, who writes regularly for the Likudist Jerusalem Post wrote, Will Syria be Obama’s Rwanda. In his column, he decried the chemical weapons attack in Syria as an act of genocide. His goal was to excoriate the Obama administration for not having the courage of its convictions to bomb Assad, as the president had promised. So these speakers, representing the heart of the GOP Jewish caucus see Syria as a “Jewish issue” and a wedge to move American Jews away from the Democrats. All I can say is that hope springs eternal. These fatcats (Adelson, Steinhardt, etc.) have been trying to do this for the past three or four election cycles and it just plain hasn’t worked. They’ve even invested millions on behalf of the Republican Jewish Coalition and other such efforts. Adelson plowed $150-million into Romney’s failed presidential campaign. It’s gone nowhere. The reason is that American Jews aren’t much different than most Americans on these issues. Just as Americans don’t want a war in Syria, Jews don’t either.
Why else might they have chosen Rwanda? My guess is that there’s money involved. I’m virtually certain that Wiesel, whom I’ve earlier called here a “moral mercenary”) is being paid for his appearance. Either he’s being paid directly or his foundation is receiving a donation (à la John Hagee, who couldn’t persuade Wiesel to address Christians United for Israel until he made a $50,000 donation to Wiesel’s foundation). Steinhardt and Adelson can easily afford to pay Wiesel’s way. But I’m betting that Rwanda itself is playing some remunerary role here. Either Boteach is on its payroll as a paid lobbyist or consultant; or Rwanda is paying others of these players.
Another possibility is that Rwanda has become involved as an Israeli ally on some issue or project or other. I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel has been selling advanced weaponry to Rwanda; or Israeli companies are playing a role in running the country’s elections as they have in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. There is some crucial nexus here that remains to be exposed.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.