African migrants at Lewinsky Park in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2014..
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
Recently I have read with concern reports from Israel’s Jerusalem Post and Haaretz that the Government of Israel is sending African asylum seekers to Rwanda. If this is true, these are troubling developments, especially coming at a time when there are equally troubling concerns that the Government of Israel in particular, and Jews in general, have become very close to the regime of President Paul Kagame.
You are aware as much as I of Israel’s own history, and the plight of Jews over millennia, in exile across the world. I am aware as much as you are about the tribulations of the Jewish people, especially before, during, and after the Holocaust, and the challenges that the State of Israel has faced since its founding in 1948.
I am familiar with statelessness. I have been a refugee for most of my lifetime. I lost my own father and many of my kith and kin in the violent troubles that have beset Rwanda since 1959. I was witness to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and the massacres that succeeded it. Having been a refugee in Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda in the past, my latest location as a refugee is the United States. I have been fortunate to serve Rwanda in various capacities: secretary general of Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandese Patriotic Front; Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States; and President Paul Kagame’s chief of staff. And like President Kagame, I am Tutsi.
As I read these stories of poor stateless Africans, I am outraged by the behavior of African rulers whose mistakes and omissions are fueling this massive hemorrhage from Africa, whose youth continue to die on high seas or become stateless.
I also wonder why, notwithstanding Israel’s many other considerations regarding immigration, it would not welcome and accept as its own these strangers in your land. If on moral and humanitarian grounds you cannot shoulder this responsibility, at least you could proceed in a more open and transparent manner to dispose these seemingly unwanted Africans.
I admire the accomplishments of Israel and Jews in human history. One of the many attributes of Israel that comes to my mind is the ability to know what goes on in distant lands. Surely, why would Israel choose to send innocent Africans to President Kagame’s Rwanda? President Kagame’s regime is now globally known for its record of lynching, exiling and killing its own citizens at home and abroad, closing space for political activity and independent media, preventing civil society and intellectual activity to thrive, and relentlessly destabilizing the Great Lakes through invasions and proxy wars.
Is it possible that Israel, of all nations in the world, would not know these public truths, and hence unknowingly send Africans to Rwanda? If Israel knows the truth but chooses to ignore it out of national interest, what is in the bargain with Rwanda? When I arrived in Washington, DC, in 1996 as Rwanda’s ambassador after the 1994 genocide, a first on my order of business was to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Subsequently I visited Yad Vashem Memorial in Israel. I have, over the years, made friends with many Jews across many organizations. It is easy to identify with Jews because of the Holocaust and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. These shared experiences have enormously humbled and educated me.
The Jewish Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide needs to be understood properly, because President Paul Kagame and the Tutsi minority regime he has built would like to make it a Tutsi-Jewish affair. This obscures the fact that many Hutu have been killed in Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are not even allowed to remember their own dead, thus making true reconciliation and healing still a distant aspiration among the majority of Rwandans.
Most importantly, making Israel- Rwanda relations, as well as relations between Jews and Rwandans anchored on President Kagame and a clique from the Tutsi minority is both dangerous and unsustainable. It fans the simmering embers of anti-Semitism that one finds lurking behind those who easily find pretext to equate most of Israel’s policies and actions, right or wrong, part of a “grand Jewish conspiracy.”
As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide and massacres, as Rwandans and human beings we are painfully reminded that evil has no religion, nation, sex, race or color. We should feel attracted to the idea of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper, even when, or especially when, they are as wretched as those Africans being sent to Rwanda. We should feel the same outrage and be persuaded to act to prevent and stop genocide and other human rights abuses, whether the targets are Tutsi, Hutu, or any other humans.
More than two and half millennia ago, in a letter to his fellow Jews during the Babylonian captivity, the Prophet Jeremiah had this advice: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). These Africans who have sought refuge among you might in the long run contribute to Israel’s peace and prosperity.
Who knows, perhaps Israel is there for Africans for such times as these?
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
Washington, DC USA
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