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Bitter Jewish Experience Means Community Can’t Be Silent on Darfur

July 18, 2005
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Today we are proud to stand as “am echad,” one people united in solidarity with the people of Darfur, victims of a government-sponsored genocide. In an extraordinarily unified effort, the leaders of the American Jewish community fully recognize that the lessons of history have taught us to confront genocide wherever it may occur. Indifference or inaction is simply not an option.

The signing of a “Call to Action on Darfur,” addressed to President Bush by the leaders of major national Jewish organizations, all religious denominations and hundreds of local synagogues, federations and Jewish groups, asserts our role as a people who recognize our obligation to be a voice for those who remain unheard.

The situation in Darfur, Sudan represents the first genocide of the 21st century. We must seek to ensure that it’s the last.

This “Rwanda in slow motion” already has taken the lives of 400,000 African Muslims who have died through murder, starvation or disease in the process of being forcibly displaced by Sudanese government forces and the Arab militias known as Janjaweed (“evil men on horseback”), whom the government forces support.

Almost 3 million people have been uprooted and suffered murder, rape and many other atrocities. Their homes, villages and livelihoods have been destroyed. They have been herded into camps without enough food, clean water, or medical care.

Unless there is a decisive response, 1 million people may starve to death by the end of this year.

Sixty years ago, after the Holocaust, the world vowed “never again.” That vow was repeated after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

The world cannot wait any longer to make good on those promises — and neither can the innocent victims of state-sponsored murder in Sudan.

The Jewish community’s response on the grass-roots level has been extraordinary: Thousands of Jewish individuals and communities around the country have educated, agitated and raised money to end the Sudanese government’s policy of mass extermination.

In effect, they have been a catalyst for a broader response by the organized Jewish community to demonstrate to these individual Jews and communities that they are not alone in their outrage and commitment to keeping our collective promise.

Many of the sponsors of the Call to Action on Darfur have been engaged in activities and issued resolutions about the crisis. Last summer, more than 20 national Jewish organizations joined the Save Darfur Coalition, founded by the American Jewish World Service, partnering with other religious communities and important civil society leaders to raise awareness and end the atrocities in Darfur.

By signing and publishing this Call to Action, we now take another visible step forward in conveying the importance of this issue to all Jews, working to focus the Jewish community’s energies against this genocide and increasing Jewish communal involvement in this effort.

Together we stand firm in our insistence that it is the moral duty of all people of good will to band together against this heinous and systematic campaign.

To that end, the leaders of the organized community seek to fuel a groundswell of conscience that will result in our government’s assertion of its moral and political influence to lead the world in calling for immediate and comprehensive international intervention in Darfur.

Besides contributing to the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief, the AJWS Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund or other humanitarian relief funds for the victims of Darfur, we ask Jews and people of faith and conscience everywhere to call on President Bush to lead the international community in:

Creating security through a larger international peacekeeping force with the expanded mandate and ability to protect all civilians;

Providing additional financial and logistical support for African Union troop training, mobilization and deployment to Darfur as part of that peacekeeping force;

Increasing funds for humanitarian assistance and facilitating its urgent delivery; and

Assisting in the reunification of families, their voluntary return to their lands and the rapid reconstruction of their homes, schools and communities.

This call has been sent to President Bush, and the endorsing organizations are sending it to their constituents, urging stepped-up action.

Until conditions are established that permit the voluntary, safe and dignified return of those displaced by the conflict, and violators of the conflict are held accountable, our diligence must not wane. Each of us, in ways big and small, can make a difference.

Our collective memory of persecution and genocide evokes deep empathy for the victimized people of Darfur and keen recognition of our responsibility — as Jews, as Americans, as people of conscience — to aid them.

Bitter history has taught us that indifference must never be the response to genocide.

David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Ruth Messinger is executive director of the American Jewish World Service.

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