“Save Darfur”: Evangelicals and Establishment Jews

Yoshie Furuhashi, “Who Wants Peace in Darfur?” (30 April 2006)

It’s embarrassing that America — and the world — will be witnessing a PRO-WAR rally in Washington, D.C. on April 30 (a project of SaveDarfur.org) that is far more highly publicized than an anti-war one (that appears to be poorly organized) in New York City on April 29, even while Washington is still soldiering on in Afghanistan and Iraq and gunning for sanctions or war on Iran.

Really, the LAST THING we need in America is ONE MORE WAR to get involved in — the least of all in an oil state like Sudan (amidst loud complaints of higher gas prices, no less).

Who is behind this astonishing pro-war rally in war-weary America (war-weary as far as the Iraq War is concerned, that is)?  A rag-tag coalition of evangelicals and establishment Jews (those whom the corporate media designate as official leaders of Jewish communities):

Keeping the peace within the diverse Save Darfur Coalition has not been easy.  Tensions have arisen, in particular, between evangelical Christians and immigrants from Darfur, whose population is almost entirely Muslim and deeply suspicious of missionary activity.

Organizers rushed this week to invite two Darfurians to address the rally after Sudanese immigrants objected that the original list of speakers included eight Western Christians, seven Jews, four politicians and assorted celebrities — but no Muslims and no one from Darfur.

Some Darfur activists also have complained about the involvement in the rally of a Kansas-based evangelical group, Sudan Sunrise.

Last week, after an inquiry from The Washington Post, Sudan Sunrise changed its Web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the people of Darfur.  Previously, it said it was engaged in “one on one, lifestyle evangelism to Darfurian Muslims living in refugee camps in eastern Chad” and appealed for money to “bring the kingdom of God to an area of Sudan where the light of Jesus rarely shines.”

Although it is not formally part of the Save Darfur Coalition, Sudan Sunrise helped arrange buses and speakers, and it is co-hosting a dinner for 600 people on the rally’s eve.

(Alan Cooperman, “Groups Plan Rally on Mall To Protest Darfur Violence: Bush Administration Is Urged to Intervene in Sudan,” Washington Post, 27 April 2006: A21)

Wow, fascinating.

For this effort, the coalition has recruited major celebrities like George Clooney and Elie Wiesel to speak to those assembled.  Though recent reports have indicated that the turnout might be lower than expected, organizers, while refusing to give a concrete number, believe it will be in “the tens of thousands.”

Little known, however, is that the coalition, which has presented itself as “an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian, and human rights organization” was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.

And even now, days before the rally, that coalition is heavily weighted with a politically and religiously diverse collection of local and national Jewish groups.

A collection of local Jewish bodies, including the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, United Jewish Communities, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, sponsored the largest and most expensive ad for the rally, a full-page in The New York Times on April 15.

Though there are other major religious organizations, like the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, both of which have giant constituencies that number in the millions, these groups have not done the kind of extensive grassroots outreach that will produce numbers.

Instead, the Jewish Community Relations Council, a national organization with local branches that coordinate communal activity all over America, has put on a massive effort to bus people to Washington on Sunday.  Dozens of buses will be coming from Philadelphia and Cleveland. Yeshiva University alone, in upper Manhattan, has chartered eight buses.

Besides the Jewish origins and character of the rally — a fact the organizers consistently played down in conversations with The Jerusalem Post — the other striking aspect of the coalition is the noted absence of major African-American groups like the NAACP or the larger Africa lobby groups like Africa Action.  When asked to comment, representatives of both groups insisted they were publicizing the rally but had not become part of the coalition or signed the Unity Statement declaring Save Darfur’s objectives.

The coalition’s roots go back to the spring of 2004 following a genocide alert, the first ever of its kind, issued by the United States Holocaust Museum.  An emergency meeting was coordinated by the American Jewish World Service, an organization that serves as a kind of Jewish Peace Corps as well as an advocacy group for a variety of humanitarian and human rights issues.

At the meeting, which was attended by numerous American Jewish organizations and a few other religious groups, it was decided that a coalition would be formed based on a statement of shared principles.

After a year of programming that involved raising awareness about the genocide, the coalition came up with the idea for a rally in Washington. Planning began in the fall of 2005.

David Rubenstein, the director or “coordinator,” as he prefers it, of the coalition says that, given that the groups who started the coalition were Jewish, “it’s not surprising that they had the numbers of more Jewish organizations in their rolodexes.”

He says that the Jewish community has been “extraordinarily responsive and are really providing the building for this thing,” and yet he insists that the coalition has worked “very, very hard to be inclusive, to make sure there are people beyond the usual suspects.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service and one-time Manhattan borough president and Democratic mayoral candidate for New York City.  The world service and Messinger personally have been at the forefront of planning for the rally.  Much of the Jewish turnout has been a result of her lobbying efforts.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The fact that the aggressors in Darfur are Arab Muslims — though it should be said that the victims are also mostly Muslim — and are supported by a regime in Khartoum that is backed by the Arab League has made some people question the true motives of some of the Jewish organizations involved in the rally.

  (Gal Beckerman, “US Jews Leading Darfur Rally Planning,” Jerusalem Post, 27 April 2006)

Should we laugh or should we cry?

Some say America is addicted to oil, but America is even more addicted to war (or economic sanctions when war is not in the cards).  “Leaders” of almost all groups in America — Republicans or Democrats, Christians or Jews or Muslims (many of whom rooted for the war in Afghanistan in the Carter-Reagan era and the war on Yugoslavia in the Clinton era), whatever — come up with their own pet wars to promote, sooner or later.

Thus is the job of the power elite made easy.  As Raffi Khatchadourian notes in an op-ed in the New York Times,  Washington is about to up its already considerable military assistance to Idriss Déby, the current ruler of Chad, whose forces have been fighting “hundreds of rebels backed by Sudan” (the largess extended despite “torture, rapes, summary executions and mass killings” that his forces have commited):

The CIA armed [Hissène] Habré for years, and since 2003, the U.S. military has been training and equipping Déby’s army, making his fight to stay in office America’s fight, too.

Last year, Chad took part in a vast, international military exercise organized by the United States — the largest exercise of its kind in Africa since World War II, according to the Defense Department.  This summer, American forces will continue to advise Chadian soldiers, and Congress is expected to allocate $500 million for a five- year program to train and equip several Saharan armies — including Déby’s.  (“Blowback in Africa,” 28 April 2006)

Militaristic identity politics in America, in which each group clamors for its share of Washington’s war chest for its cause, supplies the power elite with an excuse: “Imperialism?  Far from it.  We are here, by popular demand.”

Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.