Rwanda Leader Paul Kagame Gets Jewish Embrace — But What About Human Rights?

Does Shared Genocide History Lead to Blinkered Alliance?

Wrong Partners? Rwanda President Paul Kagame ended the genocide that killed up to 1 million people in 1994. But are Jews and others overlooking rising evidence of his authoritarian rule?
getty images
Wrong Partners? Rwanda President Paul Kagame ended the genocide that killed up to 1 million people in 1994. But are Jews and others overlooking rising evidence of his authoritarian rule?

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 28, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It was one of the worst mass slaughters since the Holocaust. And two decades later, Israel and the American Jewish community, along with much of the West, are embracing the leader who stopped it as a modern-day hero.

A series of memorial events around the world in April will mark the somber 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The anniversary will give Western countries, which were paralyzed with inaction during the slaughter, an opportunity to trumpet the new Rwanda as a contemporary success story.

The embrace is a feeling shared in full by Israel and some American Jewish leaders. Post-genocide Rwanda has become a diplomatic ally and trade partner for the Jewish state, and the African nation’s resurrection from the ashes of genocide has, for Jews, invited unavoidable comparisons to the plight the Jewish people faced just a few generations ago. It has led Jewish leaders to avidly support President Paul Kagame as the type of leader they only wish they had had during their own dark times.

“He is the only living man to stop a genocide,” said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Rwandan president’s key advocate among American Jews. “He is a personal friend of the Jewish people.”

But like most of the international community, these Jewish leaders have chosen to set aside an increasing drum beat of claims by human rights advocates, the United Nations and even some U.S. government officials that Kagame is tied to civilian killings and mass rapes carried out by rebel troops in the neighboring Congo that his government backs. Several allies-turned-dissidents who fled Rwanda have also been murdered abroad. They include Kagame’s former intelligence chief, who was strangled to death in Johannesburg in January. Other dissidents abroad have been attacked, but escaped injury. Kagame has also been accused of having supported war crimes by his troops against civilians in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide.

Kagame has staunchly denied responsibility for any of these crimes, though after the assassination in South Africa of his former intelligence chief, Patrick Karegeya, he said: “I actually wish Rwanda did it. I really wish it.” South Africa expelled three Rwandan diplomats whom it accused of having links to the murder and to the attempted murder of other Rwandan dissidents living in South Africa.

“This creates a challenge for organizations like ours [that] want to build bridges,” admitted Eliseo Neuman, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Africa Institute, which is active in Rwanda. “But this should not completely tarnish Kagame’s image.”

On March 11, Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, wrote a sharply worded letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, urging the administration to “closely re-evaluate” its ties with Rwanda. “Allowing President Kagame’s violent rhetoric and the slaying of dissidents abroad to go unchecked will only embolden the regime,” Royce stated.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.