This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
It’s getting scarier, scandalous really, with Netanyahu in town once again.
I remember when progressive Jews were certain that Ariel Sharon would never become Prime Minister. Why? Because Israel’s Jewish ethical center would hold. Then when the Wall was being built those in the know were sure that mainstream Jews and the international community would halt the Wall. Why? Because Israel’s injustice had become too obvious.
We’ve come a long way since those days.
Only one person has served longer than Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister – Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion. Coming from different political perspectives, Netanyahu and Ben-Gurion make a strange or complementary pair depending on how one understands the history – and future – of Israel.
Netanyahu spends Monday in Washington and Tuesday at the United Nations. What I am thinking about this morning, though, is the Paul Kagame/Elie Wiesel love fest at Cooper Union tonight. Amazing stuff when the doyen of Holocaust remembrance links up with the controversial and increasingly criticized Rwandan strongman.
Like Netanyahu, Kagame is here for the United Nations. The 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide has arrived. As with Ben-Gurion and Netanyahu, Netanyahu, Wiesel and Kagame make strange bedfellows. At least, I would like to think so, especially when Holocaust and genocide are on the table. However, increasingly it seems just the opposite. The three are natural allies in subterfuge and enabling violence.
Who will break this alliance? Such a break would be good for everyone, including the victims of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina has posted an open letter challenging Wiesel’s and Kagame’s joint appearance.
Below are excerpts from his letter. They read as a wake-up call for those who seek to remember both the Jewish and Rwandan experience of mass death:
As a Rwandan genocide survivor, I was very disturbed to hear that the Jewish Values Network is providing a forum for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to polish his image and tell more lies to the international community. My foundation and I were even more surprised to see that Elie Wiesel would agree to serve on a panel with Kagame.
We love Elie Wiesel and his work very much. He is a genocide survivor, a great humanitarian, and a well-deserved Nobel Laureate. That being the case, we simply don’t want to see him sitting next to someone with so much blood on his hands. I have met Mr. Wiesel on a number of occasions, and in November of 2011 I was very pleased to receive the Lantos Human Rights Prize, which Elie Wiesel was awarded in 2010. It was an incredible honor to win an award that he had also received.
But now, a man that the entire world respects has been caught in a fishing net by Kagame’s public relations machine. It would be a terrible shame to see Elie Wiesel sitting at the same panel with someone accused by the international community of having killed hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These are innocent civilians killed, the elderly, children and the sick, not just “rebel” soldiers.
Since leading a civil war against the Rwandan government from 1990-1994, a mountain of evidence continues to accumulate that Kagame and his forces have been involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity both in Rwanda during that civil war, and now in the neighboring Congo. In the Congo, the 2010 United Nations Mapping Report even states that there is enough evidence to investigate whether the Rwandan government committed genocide against Hutu civilians there. Atrocities continue on a daily basis, with UN and other international reports making it clear that the Rwandan government supports and controls the M23 militia group that is driving the violence, recruiting child soldiers, killing enormous numbers of civilians, and raping women and children daily in the Kivu region.
When we first saw the ad for this event, we thought “wow, it’s a bad idea for anyone to debate Elie Wiesel on genocide. I wonder why Kagame would do that?” But then we read deeper, and realized the terrible irony of this panel.
It would be a terrible shame to see Elie Wiesel sitting at the same panel with someone who has so much blood on his hands. And it would be an equal disgrace for highly respected Jewish organizations like the NYU Bronfman Center and the Jewish Values Network to allow Kagame a forum to spread his false tale. My understanding was that your organizations stand for justice and stopping violence. Kagame simply stands for impunity and doing whatever it takes to stay in power.
Paul Kagame is a violent dictator who should be on trial for his actions, not celebrated for them. The idea that he can sit with Elie Wiesel and discuss how to protect the weak should be a very bad joke, but it appears that it is instead a bad and embarrassing mistake about to happen.
Obviously Rusesabagina and Kagame have a thing going between them. It turns out that Jews aren’t the only ones with a disputed history.
Rusesabagina plea is eloquent – tinged with innocence. After all, it is Wiesel who is the elder Holocaust statesman, the man who taught the world, including many in Rwanda, how to commemorate mass death.
As a survivor, Rusesabagina has difficulty wrapping his mind around the naiveté of his friend, Elie Wiesel. But, then, Rusesabagina may need to adjust his view of Wiesel. Wiesel has been mostly silent on the suffering of Palestinians. It would surprise everyone if he put gloves on and fought Kagame tonight.
Empowered victims and those who speak for them often take the mantle of suffering and do what they want with it without being brought to account. Imperial Jewishness has no problem with being unaccountable. Imperial Jewishness insists on it. Imperial Rwanda is same. That’s why some see Rwanda as the Israel of Africa.
The ostensible connection tonight – Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the use of chemical weapons in Syria – is the stretch of stretches. Over the last few weeks, the Russian-American-United Nations negotiations on Syria and President Rouhani’s posture on Iran’s nuclear policy and the Holocaust has changed the highly charged political landscape to a considerable degree.
So the air might be out of the Cooper Union Holocaust/Genocide/Syria tire. Or will the assembled panel that includes other purveyors of violence like Sheldon Adelson compromise further those who died in the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide?