He came to raise funds for a local memorial wall to the Holocaust, but former President Clinton ended up running afoul of some 200 protesters incensed by his failure to prevent ethnic cleansing in Rwanda in 1994.
Gerald Caplan, who participated in an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide, wrote a blistering Op-Ed in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper several days before Clinton participated in Monday’s event sponsored by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. The commentary accused Canadian Jewish groups of not doing enough to stop the massacres in Rwanda.
” ‘Never again,’ it seems, applies only to the Jewish genocide,” Caplan wrote. “Rwandans apparently don’t count.”
While most of the international community failed to take action in Rwanda, the protestors blamed Clinton for failing to prevent the genocide in Rwanda. Hutu militias in Rwanda killed at least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate members of their own tribe in 1994.
The protestors also said it was inappropriate for the Jewish group to host Clinton.
The executive director of the Yad Vashem Society reacted with some sympathy for the protesters, but did not apologize for the event.
“We feel that what happened in Rwanda was very tragic,” Marilyn Somers said. “We understand” the protesters’ “feelings, and we are very upset that we’ve upset another community.”
Somers added that Clinton was chosen as a speaker “because of his familiarity with Yad Vashem and all that Yad Vashem stands for, because he’s been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and, obviously, because of his affinity for Israel.”
The eight black granite panels of the Holocaust memorial wall arrived recently from Italy, and stone masons have started engraving the names of victims as supplied from Holocaust survivors across Canada, Somers said.
“Every major city in Canada is represented, wherever survivors live,” Somers said. “There’s obviously a need for the wall. There was no other single place in Canada where the names were being collected.”
The society expects to unveil the Holocaust memorial wall in late September.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.