Does the road from Englewood to Washington run through Rwanda?
That would seem to be the question raised by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s trip this week to Africa, with less than 100 days to go before he faces Rep. Bill Pascrell in election for New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District.
But the long-time commentator and long-shot candidate is not looking to raise campaign cash during his overseas travels, as did former Governor Mitt Romney, who is expected to top Boteach on the Republican ballot line and raised $50,000 a plate at a breakfast in Jerusalem last week.
Instead, Boteach said, “I promised myself that if I ever ran for public office I would highlight genocide as one of the most important planks in my platform.”
Boteach told the Jewish Standard that the purpose of his trip to Rwanda is “to highlight the 800,000 people who died there, amid complete American inaction.” That is the U.N. estimate of the number of Tutsi – and some of their Hutu supporters – killed by Hutu in Rwanda over the course of 100 days that began in April 1994.
Boteach long has been critical of the absence of American intervention to stop the slaughter.
“America, the world’s sole superpower, did actually nothing,” he said. “Not next to nothing, not almost nothing, actually nothing, to stop a genocide they knew everything about. President Clinton did not have a single meeting with his senior staff about it, not one.”
Boteach said this week’s trip was arranged with the help of his daughter, a soldier in the Israeli army, who in that capacity recently met the commander-in-chief of the Rwandan army. “His office has now invited me to visit the country,” Boteach said. “I plan to see all the genocide sites.”
The visit also coincides with commitments, arranged before he launched his congressional run, to speak at Limmud, the Jewish studies conference, which will meet in South Africa this weekend and next.
“The number one responsibility of anybody in power is to protect and sustain human life,” Boteach said. “This is my main foreign policy plank: the American responsibility to protect the innocent. It may not mean military intervention, though it has to be kept on the table.”
During the Democratic primary, Pascrell was criticized by Armenian groups for failing to adequately remember the genocide of Armenians carried out by the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915. Pascrell’s opponent, Rep. Steve Rothman, received the endorsement of the Armenian National Committee of America.
According to the Massachusetts-based Armenian Weekly, “At times, Rep. Pascrell has stood out as the only member of the New Jersey Congressional delegation not to support Armenian American initiatives. Moreover, instead of attending the annual Capitol Hill Armenian Genocide commemoration, Congressman Pascrell was one of only a few members to attend the opening of new offices for an Armenian Genocide-denying organization, the Turkish Coalition of America.”
Pascrell has been the mayor of Paterson, which reportedly is home to the largest Turkish-American immigrant community in the country. Turkey is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and officially denies that genocide took place.