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With Spotlight on Darfur, Activists Plan New Rally for Mid-september

Organizers of April’s Save Darfur rally in Washington are planning another large-scale event to draw attention to the continuing genocide in Sudan. The second protest will be held in New York City on Sept. 17 and, like its predecessor, will be orchestrated by the Save Darfur Coalition, a collection of 150 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian aid organizations.

Discussions also are in place to stage rallies across the country that day, as well as in Europe and Canada.

Unlike the first rally, which was aimed at President Bush and policymakers on Capitol Hill, this event will court a more international audience. Rally director Chuck Thies said it will focus on the demand for the United Nations, which will be meeting in Manhattan that week, to deploy a peacekeeping force to Darfur.

In addition, Thies said there will be a push to make sure attendees represent an “international community.” He said the coalition will hold community roundtables in New York’s immigrant neighborhoods, advertise in non-English speaking newspapers and strive to include world music acts on the lineup.

The push for greater diversity begs the question: How will Jews, who played such a large role in the Washington rally, figure into the equation?

The answer, for the most part, is that it’s too early to tell, since most groups say they won’t flesh out their plans until more details, such as the event’s location, are determined.

Still, agencies such as the American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, both of which sit on the coalition’s executive committee, have pledged their support.

Martin Raffel, JCPA’s senior associate executive director, said he expects the Jewish community to again leave its mark on the event.

“I believe the commitment of the Jewish community on this issue is deep and sustained,” he said. “I believe a response to the event in September will be powerful.”

With a grass-roots network for Darfur mobilization up and running in the Jewish community, a call to arms may be easier to sound this time around, he said.

Gitta Zomorodi, senior policy associate at the American Jewish World Service, said Jewish groups may be inclined to rely on this existing infrastructure.

Though she said key players, such as AJWS President Ruth Messinger, may use their contacts to reach out to leaders in other religious or ethnic communities, “generally speaking it works better when we play to our strength, and that’s with the Jewish community.”

Raffel agreed.

“Our principal responsibility is to work within the Jewish community,” he said. “To the degree that we have relationships outside the Jewish community, we’ll certainly take advantage of those relationships.”

While he hoped that other groups “will be encouraging greater participation from their end,” Jews don’t need to tone down their level of involvement, Raffel said.

“A question I often get is, ‘Are we over-participating?’ ” Raffel said. “The answer to that is no. It’s genocide. It’s not surprising this has hit a chord in the community. If we’re taking a leadership role, then I say so with great pride.”

The Save Darfur Coalition was co-founded by the AJWS and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004. The museum issued a genocide alert for Darfur even before the U.S. government did; Messinger has led two trips to the war-torn region.

The Washington rally, which included speeches by Jewish notables like Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Hollywood stars like George Clooney and politicians like U.S. House of Representatives Minority leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), placed a spotlight on the situation in Sudan.

The conflict, which began in 2003, has left as many as 400,000 people dead. Government-backed Arab militias are responsible for systemically killing, raping and torturing black Africans in Darfur. Many Darfuris now live in makeshift refugee camps, where famine and disease are endemic.

The Sudanese conflict constitutes the first time the United States government has recognized genocide while it’s still occurring.

Since the last rally, the situation on the ground has not seen drastic improvement, despite the signing of a peace agreement on May 5. The agreement calls for disarming the government-backed Janjaweed militias by October, as well as downsizing the largest rebel faction, but there have been problems in achieving an actual cease-fire.

Many have called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to replace ill-equipped African Union troops on the ground. September’s rally will underscore that point.

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