(Washington, D.C., Feb. 5, 2020)--Marking 75 years since the Holocaust and 25 years following the Rwandan genocide – in which some three-quarters of the country’s Tutsi were massacred in three months – B’nai B’rith International recently hosted a major conference in Kigali, Rwanda.
The international event, which featured eminent officials, scholars and activists, addressed not only mass atrocities but their persistent causes under the title “Incitement and Dehumanization as Precursors to Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity.” Co-convened by Israel's recently inaugurated embassy in Kigali and the Aegis Trust, which oversees the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the meeting served to build on progress in recent years between African societies and Israel as well as the Jewish people.
The conference happened at the same time as a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to neighboring Uganda. On the eve of the conference, B’nai B’rith met privately with Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. During his visit, Netanyahu announced steps toward diplomatic normalization with a previously long-hostile African nation, Sudan.
B’nai B’rith also met with senior Zambian officials, beginning with Foreign Minister Joseph Malanji and Minister for Presidential Affairs Freedom Chomba Sikazwe.
Distinguished figures addressing the genocide conference – held as Rwandans observed their National Heroes Day, and just days after the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz – included Rwandan Chief Justice Faustin Ntezilyayo, Rwandan Justice Minister and Attorney General Johnston Busingye, Israeli Ambassador Ron Adam, United States Ambassador Peter Vrooman, Executive Secretary Jean-Damascène Bizimana of Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide, French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy, Palestinian Media Watch Director Itamar Marcus, former member of the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Florida Kabasinga, former Canadian Justice Minister and Attorney General Irwin Cotler, Ibuka Rwanda President Jean-Pierre Dusingizemungu, Koby Mandell Foundation co-founder Rabbi Seth Mandell, Yahad-In Unum founder Father Patrick Desbois and British Chief Rabbi Emeritus Lord Jonathan Sacks. The conference also was attended by numerous diplomats, members of Parliament, journalists and civil society representatives.
The program, organized by Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center-Jerusalem, and David Michaels, B’nai B’rith international director of United Nations and intercommunal affairs, analyzed relevant issues historically, contemporarily and with an eye to the future. It was held in the wake of the ongoing and increasing epidemic of anti-Semitism, both “traditional” and violent anti-Zionism, around the world. Both B'nai B'rith officials addressed the assembly on these and related issues.
On the sidelines of the conference, Schneider and Michaels, in an effort to further deepen active engagement with Africa, have been meeting senior-most political, religious and other leaders from multiple key African countries. The B’nai B’rith representatives’ visit coincides with the annual high-level summit of the African Union. In Kigali, the two had discussions with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta; Chairperson of the Rwandan Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and Security John Bideri; Mufti of Rwanda Sheikh Salim Hitimana; and Catholic Vicar General Fr. Consolateur Innocent.
While in Rwanda, Israeli speakers at the genocide conference visited the country’s Genocide Memorial, a related exhibition at Parliament and the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The Youth Village seeks to heal and empower traumatized Rwandan young people on the model of a renowned Israeli youth village created to care for orphans of the Holocaust.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit www.bnaibrith.org