Personal Reflections on Shared Identity and Contemporary Relationships of Mutual Support and Intersectional Solidarity of Rwandan Tutsi and Jewish Human Rights Advocates

AuthorNoam Schimmel
Published date01 April 2021
Date01 April 2021
Subject MatterOrginal Articles
Personal Reflections
on Shared Identity
and Contemporary
Relationships of Mutual
Support and
Intersectional Solidarity
of Rwandan Tutsi and
Jewish Human Rights
Noam Schimmel1
This article is a qualitative case study of the relationships being formed between
Jews and Rwandan Tutsis and the ways in which six individuals, four Tutsis and two
Jews involved in advocating for the human rights and welfare of Rwandan genocide
survivors articulate their understanding of the bonds between the two communi-
ties, their shared experiences, and how their history of having survived persecution
and genocide brings them together. Through their testimonies, it examines similari-
ties and differences between the Jewish and Tutsi experiences of vulnerability and
persecution, ways in which Tutsis and Jews work in partnership to advance human
rights and, in particular, the rights of Rwandan genocide survivors, and how their
narratives of identity have evolved in interaction with one another and continue
to develop. It discusses the particular projects and advocacy efforts in which both
groups have engaged to advance the human rights of Rwandan genocide survivors
and how through these efforts Jews and Rwandan Tutsis give expression to a shared
understanding of and commitment to human rights.
Justice, participation, rehabilitation, victim protection, victimization
Original Article
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
4(1) 41–67, 2021
2021 Rajiv Gandhi National
University of Law
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/25166069211031144
1 International and Area Studies, UC Berkeley, California, USA.
Corresponding author:
Noam Schimmel, International and Area Studies, UC Berkeley, California, USA.
42 Journal of Victimology and Victim Justice 4(1)
This article, which uses a qualitative methodology in the form of interviews,2
explores how Jews and Rwandan Tutsis articulate their shared experiences of
atrocity and the empathy, solidarity, and new relationships and narratives that are
formed as a result in their pursuit of human rights.3 Six individuals were
interviewed; two Jewish and four Tutsi. In so doing, it seeks to illuminate how
two peoples with distinct histories, religious affiliations, geographic backgrounds
and cultures have bridged differences and found a common sense of identity and
mutual obligation which transcends these differences and embraces their shared
experiences as minority peoples whose freedom, lives and welfare have been
threatened repeatedly. It is a case study which attempts to use individual testimony
to provide a window on the emerging relationship between Tutsis and Jews, its
promise and challenges, historical context, and the way in which it is bound up in
the advancement of the human rights of Rwandan genocide survivors4 and the
specific forms of human rights fulfilment that result. It is particularly concerned
with how these individuals perceive the Jewish and Tutsi experiences of genocide,
persecution and discrimination, and how these experiences inform the bonds that
they have created with one another.
In this article, I use the terms Jews and Tutsis on the basis of the self-
identification of individuals who consider themselves to be Jewish and who
consider themselves to be Tutsi. In my references to Tutsis, I am referring
exclusively to Rwandan Tutsis. I use the word ‘survivor’ to refer to an individual
who survived genocide committed on the basis of his/her perceived and/or
government-defined ethnicity (as listed in Rwandan national identity cards until
1994) and who was in Rwanda between 6 April 1994 and 4 July 1994.
It is important to note that the terms ‘Hutu’ and ‘Tutsi’ were historically fluid
categories pertaining to social class and occupation, and not to rigid ethnic
identity. They were not permanent categories. While traditionally Tutsis herded
cattle and were pastoralists, and Hutus were farmers, many Tutsis also grew crops
as they were essential for survival, and some Hutus owned cattle. While a section
of the Tutsi elite was particularly wealthy, wealth and poverty were not divided
along simple Hutu and Tutsi lines. Further, Rwandan identity was largely
2 Interviews conducted between the spring of 2009 and the summer of 2011.
3 This article limits itself to exploring the bonds formed between Tutsis and Jews. There were,
however, tens of thousands of Hutus killed in the concurrent politicide that took place at the same
time as the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi, and there are survivors of that politicide. There was also a
small but not insignificant minority of Hutus who risked life and limb to rescue Tutsis, many of whom
were killed as a result. Individuals working to advance the rights of Rwandan genocide survivors
often work closely with these individuals and communities as well, forming unique and intimate
bonds. Although this article focuses on how specific shared collective identities and experiences can
foster and facilitate human bonds and deepen empathy, the author wishes to emphasize that the human
capacity for empathy, generosity, compassion and mutual support transcends a wide range of identities
and individual and collective experiences. Even without such shared backgrounds, individuals can
build relationships predicated on empathy, mutual respect, support and understanding.
4 NelsoN MaNdela, loNg Walk to FreedoM (1995). For more on the Armenian and Jewish experiences
of genocide see, Vahakn N. Dadrian, The Convergent Aspects of the Armenian and Jewish Cases of
Genocide: A Reinterpretation of the Concept of Holocaust, 3 Holocaust geNocide stud., 151 (1988).

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