The dangers of Holocaust denial are abundant, thriving off the ignorance of history. Two days ago, Labor party leader Avi Gabbay unfortunately contradicted himself in this respect. Lending Gabbay the benefit-of-the-doubt, he reflected a common ignorance, while he rightfully attempted to highlight its worrying outcomes. Accurately concerned with the implications of the current row between Israel and Poland in terms of Holocaust denial (the proposed bill outlawing the term “Polish Death Camps”), on the matter of Rwanda, Gabbay himself fell victim to the denialist trap that plays off ignorance. Gabbay slammed the decision of Israel to back an (adopted) UN resolution to rename the day that commemorates the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda: “After we got used to ‘fake news,’ they’re now trying to rewrite history. That is the case with this [Polish] legislation and it is also the case with the proposal put forward by Rwanda last week [in the United Nations].”
Gabbay was wrong to simultaneously criticize the decision to back the UN resolution, because he incorrectly equated two opposite instances: one of having Holocaust denying implications and the other combating Genocide denial. Perhaps unknowingly, yet Gabbay fed into a dangerous narrative that undermines the very point he tried to make, while himself delivering “fake news” tainted with genocide-denial. In fact, Rwanda’s steps at the UN were to correct a false narrative prevalent in the international community, with sources that can be traced to Brussels, Paris, and the jungles of eastern Congo. Humbly, respectfully, and concisely as possible – a brief overview.
April 7 is the day that nearly 24 years ago RTLM radio blared out the sentence “cut down the tall trees,” the government code signaling the start of the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsi population by the Interahamwe militia, encouraging the Hutu masses of the country to take part. For the next 100 days, as the world passively sat by (at best), the murderous spree that left nearly 1 million Rwandans dead was perpetrated before our eyes, with horrific images shown on newscasts during supper time to a silent world – the main target being Tutsi, or “cockroaches” as the Hutu-supremacist regime called them. The main force behind ending the unchecked killing spree was the RPF, initially operating from refugee camps in Uganda (to which many Tutsi fled during three decades of post-colonial violent oppression at home). Against all odds, the RPF’s successful campaign stopped the murder, liberated the country of its genocidal regime, and stabilized and rebuilt the nation. During the remarkable years of its turnaround, while Rwanda went from worst failed state to one of the most promising markets, there was a campaign of delegitimization against the new Rwandan government (that goes on still), originating with those who lost their hold on the country: the genocidal government (which fled to eastern Congo) and its descendants (who have since evolved into one of the most dangerous militias in the world, the FDLR), and interests in the two biggest historic supporters of Rwanda prior to 1994, Belgium (the former colonial power), and France. Alas – how tragic it is, that it all boils down to self-interest and politics.
Circling back to Gabbay’s statement, under the banner of battling denialists, a correction must be made. He is absolutely correct in warning of attempts to rewrite history and the dangerous rise of denialism. With Poland, his blame is accurate; however with Rwanda, he gravely backfires – the attempt to rewrite history is not by Rwanda, but rather by the perpetrators of the Genocide and their supporters, who strive to reframe the horrors of 1994 in terms of victims and perpetrators, even though the facts are clear – the Genocide was against the Tutsi. Certainly, Hutu were among the dead during the Genocide, but this doesn’t alter the target of the Genocide – the no-less-tragic murder of Hutu was where they actively opposed the Genocide or were found hiding Tutsi from it. And of course, the previous Hutu-supremacist regime and its supporters suffered losses while at war with the RPF, which was alone in fighting to stop the Genocide. But does this change the fact that the Genocide viciously targeted all Tutsi: men, women, children, and elderly?
Though the differences between the Holocaust against the Jews and the Genocide against the Tutsi are vast, it is understandable when Jews and Tutsi find a common ground, often understanding the other’s tragic history through parallels; therefore, to accurately draw a parallel in this case, let’s ponder the following question in our own understanding of the Holocaust: in addition to the Jews, many more died at the hand of Hitler’s Germany and their supporters; and of course Nazis and their collaborators died fighting allies and partisans during World War II; but do these two facts alter the core values that we emphasize in our historic understanding of Holocaust remembrance? I think not.