British Jews mobilizing on Darfur

Darfuris and a Jewish student wear T-shirts provided by the Union of Jewish Students at a Darfur rally April 29 in London. (Shlomit Sattler)

Darfuris and a Jewish student wear T-shirts provided by the Union of Jewish Students at a Darfur rally April 29 in London. (Shlomit Sattler)

LONDON (JTA) – Long after Darfur became a cause celebre for American Jews, Jewish communities in the United Kingdom are beginning to mobilize against the genocide.Under the banner “No more excuses, protect the people of Darfur,” British Jews demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on April 29 as part of a worldwide effort to build momentum to stop the genocide unfolding in Sudan.Protesters in more than 35 capitals on the Global Day of Action called on the international community to protect the people of Darfur and impose sanctions on the Sudanese regime. Government-backed Arab militias have killed 200,000 to 400,000 people in Darfur and sparked massive refugee and humanitarian crises. The Union of Jewish Students and the U.K.-based Pears Foundation were instrumental in bringing Jewish voices to Sunday’s rally.The demonstration, and a new Pears Foundation booklet titled “Darfur: A Jewish Response,” are elements of an initiative to mobilize British Jews on the issue. Other events have been organized at a number of London synagogues, and seminars on the conflict have been held for leaders of Jewish youth groups.The Pears Foundation’s booklet provides European Jewish communities with background information on the conflict and tools for lobbying. The publication was launched last week at a fundraising dinner for the Board of Deputies of British Jews and will be available from local synagogues, youth movements and communal organizations.The booklet was put together following research the foundation did on social justice efforts in the British Jewish community. The research showed that many in the community were concerned by the lack of engagement on Darfur among British Jews at a time when Jews were leading the Darfur effort in the United States. Board of Deputies President Henry Grunwald wrote the foreword.”The Jewish communities of Europe know all too well how genocide can occur and what its effects can be,” he told JTA. “As Jews we have a duty, not only to our fellow Jews but also to the wider world. And make no mistake, each one of us can and must make a difference.”The Union of Jewish Students has taken up the issue, and many of the Darfur campaign groups on university campuses are led by Jews. Events are being planned for Jewish students at Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol universities, and Darfur-awareness sessions will be held at a UJS activists’ conference.At Sunday’s rally, Jewish students held banners saying “Never Again,” a reference to the world’s passivity in the face of the Holocaust. Jews joined other protesters in calling on the British government to work with the United Nations and African Union to secure Sudan’s consent for the deployment of an effective peacekeeping force in the region.Joel Braunold attended with a group from Bristol University, where the Jewish Society is behind the initiative led by the Pears Foundation in cooperation with the Aegis Trust, the U.K.’s main genocide-prevention NGO. “It’s good to see Jews of all types at the rally – students and youth and synagogue movements,” Braunold said. “The Jewish presence is recognizable.”Claire Berliner, program officer at the Jewish Community Center for London, said she was struck by the community’s wide representation at the rally.”It does show that we have the communication networks in place to really mobilize the community, even at short notice, to support such a vital cause,” she said. “I hope that awareness in the community continues to grow so we can start to make a real and effective contribution to the Darfur campaign.”Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s Orthodox chief rabbi, told JTA that British Jews had included the Darfur crisis in their national Holocaust Memorial Day service this year.Theater director Rachel Grunwald recalled a sermon her rabbi gave on Rosh Hashanah about the Jewish people’s obligation to protect and save lives.”It struck a chord with me because I was fed up going to Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations where Jews were saying ‘never again,’ yet felt there wasn’t enough outrage about Darfur within our community, which is a comfortable community,” she said. “I think we forget the terrible things people around the world suffer.”Grunwald said she is organizing a May event to help young Jews effect change, whether by helping Darfuri asylum seekers in London or putting pressure on the government to act.”I think it’s at the heart of a Jewish life to care and save a life,” she said, “and not to live in your little bubble.”The Pears Foundation, a major supporter of charitable causes across the United Kingdom and the world, is the largest private funder of Holocaust education in the United Kingdom. It also funds genocide-education programs in Rwanda, the “Protect Darfur” campaign and development-assistance work in Congo and Ghana.World Jewish Relief, one of the Jewish community’s major overseas aid organizations, launched an emergency appeal last week calling on the community to raise funds for the Darfuri people.The appeal is seeking to provide life-saving nutrition, medicine and shelter to the elderly, women and children. The initiative has support across the community, including from the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, B’nai B’rith U.K., the Board of Deputies, the Federation of Synagogues, Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, Tzedek, the Union of Jewish Students and United Synagogue.”We have already seen what can happen when the world stands by, reluctant to become involved in the affairs of other countries,” World Jewish Relief Chairman Nigel Layton said. “Six million Jews paid that price, almost 1 million Rwandans paid that price, 200,000 Bosnians paid that price and so far it seems that 400,000 Darfuris have paid that price, too. “We know what it is to see our communities and our families murdered in cold blood while others do nothing. We know how that feels, and that gives us a moral obligation to never let it happen again. ‘Never again’ is quickly becoming ‘yet again,’ and we cannot be a part of that.”

NEXT STORY