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Chechnya, Darfur, and Jewish Activism

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The Sudan Liberation Army signed a peace agreement with Khartoum.  Now, only the Justice and Equality Movement is left (Lydia Polgreen and Joel Brinkley, “Biggest Rebel Faction in Darfur Poised to Sign Peace Deal,” New York Times, 4 May 2006).

Will the “30 Days for Darfur” campaign, “inspired by a meeting between Rabbi [David] Saperstein [Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism], President Bush, and other Darfur advocates” (“Reform Jewish Movement Launches ’30 Days For Darfur’ Campaign with www.30daysfordarfur.org,” 2 May 2005), still be pressing on?   If so, the main effect of it, ironically, will be to strengthen the position of the Islamist JEM and extract more concessions from Khartoum on the JEM’s behalf.

Why not respond to Jewish leftists demanding action for a US withdrawal from Iraq instead?

Almost six months after putting Judaism’s largest denomination on record calling for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, a divided Reform movement has let languish the resolution it passed with great fanfare at its November biennial convention.

The Union for Reform Judaism resolution, which demanded “a clear exit strategy . . . with specific goals for [U.S.] troop withdrawal,” marked

the first — and still only — official stand by a major Jewish organization against the war, even as polls consistently show Jews more strongly opposed to the war than the country as a whole.

But since writing President George W. Bush in December repeating the resolution’s main points, Reform leaders have not issued any press statements on the issue. The numerous action alerts sent to Reform congregations nationwide have called for action on issues ranging from the crisis in Darfur to the bloody budget battle on Capitol Hill — but not a word on Iraq.

Now, some of the Reform rabbis and lay leaders who strongly supported the resolution are beginning to voice criticism. (James D. Besser, “Reform Movement Goes Silent On Its Anti-War Stand: Five Months after Resolution at Biennial, Liberal Stream Paralyzed in Follow-up,” The Jewish Week, 14 April 2006)

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney “delivered the Bush administration’s strongest rebuke of Russia to date. He said the Russian government ‘unfairly and improperly restricted’ people’s rights and suggested that it sought to undermine its neighbors and to use the country’s vast resources of oil and gas as ‘tools of intimidation or blackmail'” (“Strong Rebuke for the Kremlin From Cheney,” New York Times 4 May 2006), presenting no evidence whatsoever.  Of course, his motive has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with Moscow’s refusal to agree to the US demand for sanctions or military strikes on Iran.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which initiated the “Save Darfur” coalition with American Jewish World Service, had also issued a “Genocide Watch” for Chechnya in 2001 (note that it has nothing to say about Iraq, though the latest estimate of Iraqi casualties numbers 200,000, about the same as the Darfur casualty estimate — the only “[p]laces currently on the [Holocaust Museum Committee on Conscience’s] standing agenda” are “Chechnya,” “Sudan: Darfur,” and “Sudan: South/Nuba Mtns”).  Don’t be surprised if the Holocaust Museum follows the Bush administration’s lead (as in Darfur) and tries to start a “grassroots” campaign on Chechnya (tough as it may be after Beslan).

Jewish leftists have tough work cut out for them: changing the direction of Jewish activism.


Yoshie Furuhashi is editor of MRZine.


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