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On Sunday morning, 03.26.2017, Rwandan President Paul Kagame became the first African president to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which also identifies itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.” Kagame was also the only foreign head of state to address this year’s conference besides Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself.
On the same day, a full page ad for the Champions of Jewish Values Gala in NYC at the end of May appeared in the Washington Post. The event, it said, will celebrate “the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem,” meaning the Israel Defense Force’s seizure of Temple Mount – a holy site to Muslims, Christians, and Jews – during the 1967 Six Day War. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Alan Dershowitz will be among the presenters, and awards will go to Martin Luther King III, David Friedman, Jose Maria Aznar and others. Paul Kagame will receive the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Prize for Outstanding Friendship with the Jewish People.
I spoke to Robin Philpot, author of “Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, from Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction” about the special relationship between Israel and Rwanda.
AG: Robin Philpot, in your book you identify two events that contributed to official sanction of the use of the word “genocide,” a crime defined by the UN Convention on Genocide after World War II and the Holocaust, to describe Rwanda’s 1994 tragedy. The first was a conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali held in 1995. Could you explain what happened there?
RP: Yes, this was one of the events that sealed the alliance between Israel and Rwanda. The Office of the President of Rwanda organized the conference and invited Efraim Zuro of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Michael Berenbaum of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The president’s office asked both to make proposals about how to memorialize “the” genocide in Rwanda. Efraim Zuro then became an advisor to the Rwandan government in its hunt for génocidaires, and from then on Zionists throughout the world were willing to share the use of the term “genocide” with Rwandan Tutsis. Israel has very jealously guarded the use of that term; they have, for example, never agreed to share it with Armenians, largely because of Israel’s strategic alliance with Turkey.
AG: Now could you describe the second event?
RP: Less than a year later, in October 1996, Paul Kagame made an official visit to Israel where he received all honors from Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then Prime Minister as he is now.
AG: And what happened after Kagame’s first visit to Israel?
RP: About three weeks after that meeting, Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was then Zaire. After 1994, there were something like two million Rwandan Hutu refugees living in Congo. The Rwandan army massacred them in eastern Congo, then literally chased survivors all the way across Congo, from east to west, killing more all the way. Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo again in 1998, and that ultimately led to the death of more than 5 million Congolese, most of whom died of hardship after fleeing Rwanda and Uganda’s wars for Congolese territory and resources.
When you look at the previous relationship between Israel and Rwanda – and between Israel and Uganda – it’s obvious that the invasion of Congo was coordinated with Israel, which, like the U.S., wanted a strategic position in the heart of Black Africa.
AG: How does Rwanda benefit from its special relationship with Israel?
RP: I would say that it has this special relationship with Israel because they are both client states of the U.S. and they operate in much the same way. They are both highly militarized, and they lay down the law in their respective regions because they have such a massive military apparatus.
Rwanda also benefits greatly from this special relationship with Israel, which helps it maintain its reputation and position in the U.S. and U.K., where Kagame is still received very well. He just addressed AIPAC in Washington D.C., and he’s about to receive this award from the Adelson organization in New York City, but there are many places he doesn’t dare go anymore. For instance, Montreal, where he can’t appear without facing large, angry demonstrations.
AG: And how do Israel and the U.S. benefit from the special relationship?
RP: Well, there you have to go back to how this alliance was established. In the 50s and 60s, the U.S. had to weaken the Arab states to advance its own interests, and Israel was a very important element of its strategy. The Arab states were hostile to Israel, which was a highly militarized settler colonial state.
Many of the Arab states at that time – Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq – were charting an independent course, sometimes allied with the Soviet Union, and the U.S. was determined to prevent them from asserting their independence.
In the late 1980s, Sudan was becoming a very strong, independent state opposed to Israel, and there was a meeting set up by a man named Roger Winter that brought together Rwandan exile leaders who were living in Uganda and Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda then and now, since winning a civil war in 1986. The U.S. called President Museveni and these Rwandan exiles the new African leaders, and the U.S. and Israel saw that as a way of containing Sudan and these other Arab states from the backyard.
Rwanda and Uganda could be called mad dog states – they’re highly militarized, and they serve as sheriffs for the U.S. at the same time as they pursue their own interests. You may remember when there was an uproar about human rights abuse by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in Darfur, and a Rwandan military officer, Karake Karenzi, was sent to head the UN peacekeeping mission there, even though Karake himself had been indicted for human rights crimes.
AG: Who had indicted Karake Karenzi?
RP: That was the Spanish justice system and the French system under Judge Bruguière. The French judge has changed but the case continues. When Karake Karenzi went to head the UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur, he himself had already been indicted for massive human rights crimes in both Rwanda and Congo.
AG: And they had done that because Kagame’s army had killed French and Spanish citizens as well?
RP: Yes, exactly. The Spanish court investigated because Spanish humanitarian workers and priests were assassinated by Kagame’s forces in Rwanda. They shot dead two priests from Québec as well. And the French court investigated because the entire crew of the plane that was shot down on April 6, 1994, killing Rwanda and Burundi’s Hutu presidents, were French nationals. And Karake Karenzi was named in the French indictment.
AG: Right after the U.S. and NATO bombed Libya and successfully demanded the murder of Muammar Gaddafi, President Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice flew first to Libya and then to Rwanda, where she claimed that this time they had succeeded where they’d failed in Rwanda. Kagame and/or Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo have been invited to conferences and forums organized to advocate for all out war in Syria to “stop genocide.” Could you comment on that?
RP: Well, the subtitle of my book is “From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction.” Unfortunately, the tragedy in Rwanda has been used cynically to advance U.S. and Israeli interests and to wage war on Libya and Syria. And Kagame was the only African head of state to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has totally thrown his lot in with U.S. imperial adventure.
When the U.S. and Israel start to use this word “genocide,” you have to figure out why they’re using it and what they want to accomplish, how they hope to cynically advance their own interests. Ed Herman and David Peterson have written a lot about this in The Politics of Genocide and Enduring Lies: Rwanda in the Propaganda System 20 Years Later.
AG: Max Forte, the author of Slouching Towards Syrte, NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, has said that “‘Rwanda’ is everywhere for the humanitarian imperialist.”
RP: Yes, unfortunately. They’ll say “Rwanda” in hopes of provoking a knee jerk reaction in support of new imperial wars, but that takes advantage of total ignorance about what really happened in Rwanda in 1994. The U.S. says “we failed to act then, so we must act now” but that’s a lie. In the UN Security Council, the U.S. refused to act or allow any other nation to act because the U.S., then led by Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton, wanted their man Kagame to seize power in Rwanda, no matter the human cost. That’s why then UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said and told me repeatedly, “The genocide in Rwanda was 100 percent the responsibility of the Americans!” The strategy was to control that whole area of East Africa and Central Africa and to contain the Arab States with the help of their African neighbors.
And that explains these great love-ins between Israel and Rwanda taking place this year, at the AIPAC conference and this upcoming Adelson awards event.
AG: These love-ins take place many times every year, and every time they mangle Rwanda’s story and use it as an excuse for “interventions” to, they say, protect people from their own governments.
RP: Yes, and every time people start questioning Western military interventions, the U.S. and Israel think they can win their case by simply saying “Rwanda,” but I think it’s wearing off because people have started asking, “Well, what really did happen in Rwanda?” And anyone who takes the time to figure that out cannot but conclude, as we do, that the official story is a huge lie.