US national security advisor Susan Rice.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As a people who experienced the worst genocide in world history, the Jewish community must be especially sensitive to the need to combat genocide worldwide. The same applies to our need to hold public officials accountable when they fall short in their responsibility to protect the innocent.
Our ad calling out Susan Rice for putting politics before people in the Rwandan genocide, as well as her condemnation of the Israeli prime minister for simply speaking out against the Iranian annihilatory threats against the Jewish people, is part of our years-long effort to combat genocide. Rice must be sensitive to the right of leaders who have experienced genocide to go the extra mile to ensure it never happens again.
Rice’s reluctance for political purposes to properly identify the murder of 800,000 Rwandans as a genocide is part of the historical record. It was exposed by her successor, Ambassador Samantha Power, in her Pulitzer-Prize winning book A Problem From Hell
It was to highlight the terrible genocide in Rwanda that I traveled there with my family three times, and I was honored to be asked by Rwandan President Paul Kagame to deliver one of the keynote speeches at the twentieth commemoration of the genocide last April.
There is no issue more serious than genocide. Iran has repeatedly threatened the destruction of Israel. It has lied to the world for more than a decade as it has enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb. Iran is an oil superpower and has absolutely no use whatsoever for nuclear fuel . Its non-stop efforts to enrich uranium can be for only one logical purpose. Former US secretary of state George Shultz summarized it well: “They don’t want a nuclear weapon for deterrence. They want a nuclear weapon to use it. On Israel.”
Rwanda might not be everyone’s idea of a family trip but it’s one of my favorite places in the world and, after visiting in 2012 to highlight the 1994 genocide, I wanted my children to experience it with me. Much has happened since then, including Rwanda occupying the Africa seat on the United Nations Security Council and announcing that it will be opening an embassy in Israel. I now try and visit Rwanda regularly to promote the brotherhood of the Jewish and Rwandan peoples, both of whom have been subjected to unspeakable horrors but are committed to healing and hope.
Why did I travel to central Africa to visit the sites of mass murder and genocide? Because no other country on earth today reminds us moderns as strongly of the responsibility of man to his fellow man, and no other country has bounced back from genocide with such determination, forgiveness and resilience.
In the Jewish community the word “survivor” evokes men and women in their eighties whose families were wiped out by the Germans. In Rwanda, those same survivors are in their twenties and thirties, like our guide, Gaspard, whose 10 siblings were macheted to death and his father shot before his eyes when he was a boy of nine.
Rwanda’s tragic history is ever-present. Memorials are strewn throughout the country, as are mass graves housing the nearly one million who were hacked to death in a racial genocide of Hutu on Tutsi that was the fastest in the history of the world, claiming the lives of 300 people every hour for the three months of April to June 1994.
I visited a church outside the capital where, not being ready for the gruesome skeletal remains of 5,000 butchered innocent people, I gagged, threw up, and could not breathe.
At the Murambe Genocide Memorial it was much worse. There, on April 21, 1994, more than 50,000 people were shot, bludgeoned and hacked to death in the middle of the night in just a matter of hours. One thousand of their lime-covered bodies are displayed on wooden tables in a scene so macabre that it constitutes the single most disturbing thing I have ever witnessed in my life. Rwanda, like the Jewish people before them, faces a cottage industry of genocide deniers and they are intent on displaying the full extent of the tragedy so that it can never be denied.
The surrounding hills were as silent and serene as the dead, and I was reminded of the quiet and stillness of Auschwitz where all is mute as you walk through the gas chamber ruins.
I have become a firm admirer of this stalwart people and especially of its president, Paul Kagame, who ended the genocide in 1994. That Kagame could bring the world’s most failed state back to a position of progress and prosperity less than two decades after the fastest genocide in world history is a miracle.
That he is a staunch friend and admirer of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is of great consequence, especially on the African continent.
Like Netanyahu, Kagame faces significant criticism over his efforts to protect his people. Some believe the allegations against his government have merit while others are more understanding of a leader who has sworn to protect his people from genocidal forces – the children and ideological heirs of the original Hutu butchers – that are still amassed on his border. But one cannot help but admire a man who witnessed his people being exterminated while the world watched in silence, rustled up his troops to stop the killing, conquered the entire country with great alacrity, and when he took power did not retaliate against the Hutu majority who had turned Rwanda into an ocean of blood.
It is this iron determination to protect his people whatever the consequences that is the source of my admiration for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While driving through the Rwandan countryside I inquired as to the identity of the many middle-aged men in orange jumpsuits who were working the fields. I was told they were prison inmates.
“What was their crime?” I asked our guide. “Genocide,” he replied. “These are the men who did the killing. Their punishment is to work the fields and grow produce.” Grow produce. A punishment somewhat different to what was meted out at Nuremberg.The author, “America’s rabbi,” is founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network. He recently published
The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.