From ‘Save Darfur’ to expel Darfur: a Zionist flip-flop on Sudanese refugees

save darfur 1
New York volunteer with the Save Darfur Coalition, wearing t-shirts advertising to “Save Darfur,” 2006. (Photo: Dave McLaughlin)

The shortcomings of a state founded with only the rights and self-determination of one people in mind have never been clearer, and the silence of its international supporters to recent injustices has never been more alarming. The American Jewish community is generally liberal, politically engaged, and concerned with international human rights. This does not come as a surprise given the history of oppression that many of our ancestors faced as minorities in other countries, and consequentially the strong emphasis on standing with the side of justice when genocides and other injustices arise today. However, as the recent anti-immigrant fiasco has shown: when those liberal politics that support human rights clash with the politics of Zionism and ethnocentrism in Israel, the American Jewish community turns a blind eye.

In 2006, the genocide in Darfur became an important issue among many American Jewish and Zionist organizations. A number of prominent Jewish organizations, together with other faith-based institutions, became members and advocates of the Save Darfur Coalition. The Save Darfur Coalition, undoubtedly the most effective organization in raising awareness and advocating intervention in Darfur, was founded after the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service held their first event regarding the crisis, featuring Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as the speaker. According to a Jerusalem Post article published in April 2006, “Little known, however, is that the coalition… was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.” Since then, more than 130 other faith-based organizations have signed on.

Sadly, American Jewish organizations have remained silent in the face of rising xenophobic threats against African refugees in Israel, many of whom are from the very region the Jewish community was rallying in support of just a few years ago. A recent article published by Radio Netherlands Worldwide tells the story of a Darfurian refugee who, after fleeing the massacres in his homeland and being arrested three times by the Khartoum Government, thought he might find peace, security and acceptance in Israel. “I heard the refugees from Darfur were living in Egypt, and they came to Israel,” Guy Josif recalls. “And I thought: ‘OK, a holocaust happened, a genocide of the Jewish in Europe, and a genocide that happened now in Darfur. So I will go there, and at least I can share this story with Israelis.”

But they didn’t greet him with open arms (in contrast to their welcoming Ethiopian Jews, for whom Israel orchestrated massive airlift initiatives known as “Operation Moses”). Instead, the Israeli Government has met refugees and migrant workers with threats of expulsion. Those who Josif thought might listen to his plight have instead rallied their government officials to expel the “infiltrators”–as they are called. More than two hundred South Sudanese have been detained and set for expulsion this past week. 120 people have already been deported. Right-wing extremists in the country have taken matters into their own hands, complaining of a slow Government response to the rising immigrant ‘problem,’ and have thus attacked and firebombed the homes of immigrant families.

Despite the obvious injustices, Jewish Americans largely remain silent, standing by the side of their Israeli counterparts. Never mind that it is now Israel oppressing some of the very same people we rallied to help a few years ago. Unquestioned and uncritical loyalties to Zionism trump human rights among the mainstream Jewish community; our support for the downtrodden seems less important when it poses a challenge to Jewish sovereignty.

Palestinians learned that lesson a long time ago.

About Michael Kaplan

Michael Kaplan is an independent journalist and history student at the New School University in New York City. He writes on issues related to social justice, including domestic policy, the War on Terror and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He spent a number of months living in the West Bank in 2009 and 2010. You can follow him on twitter @MichaelD_Kaplan or his newly launched blog
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. seafoid says:

    “Sadly, American Jewish organizations have remained silent in the face of rising xenophobic threats against African refugees in Israel, many of whom are from the very region the Jewish community was rallying in support of just a few years ago”

    And what did you expect to see from a Torquay hotel window, madam?

  2. David Green says:

    There is no point in viewing “Save Darfur” as having ever been anything other than a massive propaganda effort on behalf of “worthy victims,” at best exploiting the desire of some privileged white people to help those who can be safely labeled as being victimized by an official enemy of the U.S./Israel. Thus the silence regarding the African refugees is consistent with the original motives, which were political rather than humanitarian. The same analysis can be applied to Nicholas Kristof.

    Moreover, I suspect that Save Darfur delivered few if any resources to those suffering.

    • W.Jones says:

      The Save Darfur Coalition, undoubtedly the most effective organization in raising awareness and advocating intervention in Darfur, was founded after the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service held their first event regarding the crisis, featuring Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel as the speaker. According to a Jerusalem Post article published in April 2006, “Little known, however, is that the coalition… was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community.”

      Why was the campaign started? I understand people in Darfur were being mistreated badly, but there are people in many African countries being mistreated. It seems like a good campaign, I am just wondering if there was a specific angle that motivated it.

      Are you saying that Sudan was a US enemy or something and was hurting the Darfurians?

      • David Green says:

        Scholar Mahmood Mamdani says in response to these questions:

        What is the agenda of those behind groups such as Save Darfur?

        Besides inflating the consequences of the conflict, its use of the word “genocide” is blatantly a political attempt to depoliticise the issue by presenting support for one side as a moral compulsion.

        What is the role of the “war on terror” in framing the Darfur conflict?

        Save Darfur shares a common frame with the “war on terror”. First is the claim that this is not a political conflict driven by issues but a moral crusade against evil. Second, the conflict is decontextualised, as it is presented in abstract moral terms, thereby stripping it of both history and politics.

        On the Save Darfur website you will see a catalogue of atrocities: killings, rape, burnings and so on. Along with like-minded human rights groups, Save Darfur catalogues atrocities, identifies perpetrators and victims, and demands that perpetrators be named and shamed – and punished. The assumption is that violence is its own explanation; driven by perpetrators, not by issues. Any attempt to focus on issues is derided – as with the “war on terror” – as an apology for perpetrators. Thus follows the conclusion: the only way to do away with violence is more violence, the only difference being that “our” violence is said to be good and moral, but “theirs” is bad and evil.

        link to socialistreview.org.uk

        • hophmi says:

          There is no question that Darfur is a more complex conflict than presented by the Save Darfur coalition. I do not know of a conflict that is not more complex than how it is presented by a political advocacy organization. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more complex than the picture presented by AIPAC or the BDS Movement. Political advocacy organizations are not known for embracing complexity.

          That said, it is true that people are being killed and raped based on their ethnicity, that the numbers of dead are in the hundreds of thousands, and that the government supports the killers.

          Mahmood Mamdani can complain about the motives of people like John Predergast, who has spent his life as human rights activist, all he wants, but the reality is that it’s basically a genocide, and those that have avoided calling it that have done so for political reasons; the West because they do not want the international commitment that comes with calling it a genocide, the Arabs because it is embarrassing to admit that Arab racism has played a role in the genocide.

      • Michael550 says:

        I think it is worth being highly suspicious of the Save Darfur Coalition and their agenda. Having said that, the vast majority of those involved in the cause within the Jewish community are well-intended. I believe that my article stands true regardless of whether you trust the organization or not, because most of the Jewish community was driven by a want to halt what is believed to be a genocide.

        Darfur is not as simple of a conflict as many have painted it. Some allege that the US has an incentive to pressure Sudan & China (for allegedly supporting Sudan in the genocide) because China has supposedly bought much of Darfur’s oil. Thus, many have encouraged a campaign to call upon China to step out of Darfur in order to pressure Sudan against genocide. Clearly their may be ulterior motives there. Other theories have been put forward as well.

        That being said, I do not think it negates from the fact that people are suffering in Darfur, hundreds of thousands have died, and millions have been made refugees. Yes, the situation is extremely complex and not so easy as to just label it genocide and not explore deeper than that; passing it off as Arabs killing Africans due to racism – as many have – is simply untrue. But it does not negate from the fact that, in my opinion, the Sudanese Government is highly oppressive. I certainly do not believe in intervention though.

        This article, however, is about Zionism and not about Darfur. I was using this case merely because it shows the clear hypocrisy of those who uncritically support Israel – that they support Darfurians when it seems to be against Khartoum, and not when it might go against their dogmatism.

        • David Green says:

          “they support Darfurians when it seems to be against Khartoum, and not when it might go against their dogmatism.”

          That tells me that they don’t support Darfurians. Not really. Not in any principled or meaningful way. Only when it doesn’t involve taking any real political risks, or even doing some real political homework and self-reflection.

  3. hophmi says:

    It’s simply false to say that American Jewish organizations haven’t spoken out.

    The Tel Aviv riots were condemned by HIAS, the ADL, the AJC, the JCPA, and other orgs. link to jta.org

    It’s also beyond ridiculous for any American to criticize a country that deports 200 people when America deports roughly 400,000 people a year. The organization I am most active in, the American Jewish Committee, is an ardent supporter of the DREAM Act, among other things, and most of the organized American Jewish community is on the liberal side of the spectrum when it comes to immigration policy.

    We have exactly the same kind of right-wingers in this country using racist language to talk about illegal immigrants; it is a byproduct of what happens when, like here, a country does not establish any meaningful policy to address the issue of undocumented people. Most of the Republican Party cannot even bring themselves to support allowing undocumented kids who are high-school graduates or served in the Army and never committed a crime from getting work permits, let alone green cards.

    Israel cannot actually deport Sudanese and Eritrean migrants, as opposed to the South Sudanese deported this week, because of the Refugee Convention, so it remains to be seen what will happen.

    It’s also ridiculous to ignore the fact that this is an actual problem. As of April 2012, Israel has received roughly 60,000 migrants, mostly through the porous border with Egypt (and you can ask yourselves why they didn’t just stay in Egypt, but the Egyptian army policy of shooting at border crossers might give you an idea). This is a lot of undocumented people for a country of seven million, and it’s not going to go away.

    I think most of these people will end up staying in Israel, just like most migrants from south of the border stay here, just like most migrants seem to stay in Europe. So let’s cut the crap. Every developed country is dealing with some variant of this problem of migrant workers from the developing world, complete with right-wing political leaders using racist language to talk about it.

    • Avi_G. says:

      The organization I am most active in, the American Jewish Committee

      I’m not surprised you support the AJC, the same organization that after 9/11 sought to change, modify and manipulate American Moslem population figures in order to minimize their effectiveness. And it did so by conducting its own “poll” and then disseminating the false information to federal agencies and media outlets.

      And this doesn’t begin to touch on the fascism that is inherent to the organization’s statements on Palestinians.

      Showing our true colors, again.

      • ritzl says:

        I remember that. Another pivotal moment.

        There was a poll commissioned by the ADC (or CAIR?) showing 10-12M Muslims in the US. The AJC commissioned a poll immediately thereafter that came up with a number of 6M. It then used that poll to directly question the 10-12M figure. Exactly and specifically as you say.

        I remember asking myself, why would anyone make such an effort to deride and dismiss someone else’s self-identification numbers? Jealous preservation of political power at other’s expense was the obvious answer. But it just seemed weird how much trouble was taken to do so.

  4. hophmi says:

    “I’m not surprised you support the AJC, the same organization that after 9/11 sought to change, modify and manipulate American Moslem population figures in order to minimize their effectiveness. And it did so by conducting its own “poll” and then disseminating the false information to federal agencies and media outlets. ‘

    How about a source for that? There’s plenty of controversy regarding the number of Muslims in the US, but the AJC actually has worked more with Muslim organizations then probably any American Jewish organization has, sending representatives to international conferences of Muslim young people, supporting the Park 51 project, and working behind the scenes with Muslim leaders for many years now.

    “And this doesn’t begin to touch on the fascism that is inherent to the organization’s statements on Palestinians. ”

    Oh please. Grow up.

    “Showing our true colors, again.”

    Yes, you are. As a person who will change the subject rather than take responsibility for blatant inaccuracies here.

    • Avi_G. says:

      Oh please. Grow up.

      AJC rushes to justify attack:

      link to mondoweiss.net

      AJC claims activists used automatic weapons:

      link to mondoweiss.net

      AJC promotes anti-Semitism against Arabs:

      link to mondoweiss.net

      How many more links would you like?

      You’re ****** pathetic.

      • hophmi says:

        How about one from an actual unbiased source? Get a clue. Mondoweiss is not an unbiased source on the AJC, you do not understand what a fact is, and you don’t have the credibility to call anyone else pathetic.

        • Inanna says:

          How about you click on the first link hophmi? That story consists entirely of quotes from the American Jewish Committee’s Z Word site. How is Phil quoting them on Mondoweiss without any comment except for:

          from American Jewish Committee’s “Z-word” website

          And this:

          Thanks to Ben White.

          biased? In short, it’s not, the AJC damn themselves with their own words not anyone else’s biases.

    • David Green says:

      May God bless and keep the Africans …. far away from here.

  5. Newclench says:

    Dan Sieradski is doing great work to address this issue. link to act.progressivejews.org

  6. David Green says:

    It was never and still isn’t and never will be convincing that anything about U.S./Israel/Zionist/Jewish interest in Africans is anything other than various combinations of geopolitics, distraction, humanitarian propaganda, and worthy victimhood. It’s selective, it’s self-serving, and always hypocritical in the context of the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East. The reaction of racist Israelis is welcome and honest in a sense, because it shows the true nature of Israeli society, although not of every Israeli. And those Israelis who are rightfully and sincerely outraged are done no service in being exploited by Isabel Kershner, as if Israel itself has a “soul.”

    link to nytimes.com

    If Israel simply had a refugee problem, it could deal with it with the help of the international community. But of course Israel can’t work with the U.N. and other organizations, for obvious reasons. What is rotten will always stink.

  7. piotr says:

    I do not like stories based on the premise “they are all the same”.

    One can justify the deportation of South Sudanese, because they do not claim persecution from the government anymore. Still, economic and security situation of the new country is precarious, and resettling refugees should be done in humane manner.

    The Fur may claim persecution still, and Darfur is a part of North Sudan. Like Eritreans, they are not a subject of current deportation, but basically persecution within Israel. Now Israel is building detention centers that seem to be modelled after concentration camps rather than on humanitarian relief centers.

    Potentially disturbing aspect of refugee hysteria is the project of harmonizing democratic norms of Israel with Eritrea, a ridiculously militarized Marxist dictatorship. Interior minister Eli Yishai claims to be engaged in talks with the rulers of Eritrea to return refugees directly there. Will Israel lend its fund and expertise to expand concentration camps on Dahlak Islands? Indeed, it may be cheaper to keep refugees there rather than in similar camps in the Negev. Concerning persecution claims of Eritreans, perhaps Israel is in good position to ignore them. Ridiculously excessive military service, nominally 18 months but in practice, perhaps 7 years of free labor for the state? Who is Israel to criticise that? Military service should be as long as the national security requires. Arresting journalists and accusing them of breaching national security? Again, who is Israel to criticise that?

  8. hophmi says:

    “Now Israel is building detention centers that seem to be modelled after concentration camps ”

    Substantiate this ridiculous statement. I’m not aware of any plan to build barracks and crematoria while forcing refugees to perform hard labor.

  9. Basilio says:

    Why was Darfur so important because Arab Muslim Sudanese were involved, and it would help Israel’s image and give Israel a protective shield when abusing Palestinians because you would often hear “What about Darfur”. I insisted all along that the concern for Darfur wasn’t so genuine.

    • Michael550 says:

      This presumption, which might be true, relies on conflating regular Jews & mainstream Jewish organizations with those high up at the institutional level who might exploit their good-intentions. In no way are the vast majority of those wanting to help Darfur in the Jewish community even making the connection between Sudan and their relationship to Israel. Unfortunately, this is the problem with lacking an understanding of politics and yet attempting at humanitarianism.

    • Michael550 says:

      Well, I certainly was not attempting to make a generalization of every single Jewish organization in America. It shouldn’t come with amazement that an organization like HIAS would condemn the anti-immigrant fervor. It should be expected, given that they’re an organization founded to aid immigrants & refugees. Thank God there are some Zionists out there that put their care for humanity above their dogmatism for Israel.

      But by and large, the Jewish voices genuinely shouting in opposition to the rise in xenophobia are a small fringe – primarily leftist Zionist organizations and immigrant rights organizations. The majority of others who have responded have done little more than offer a few nice sounding sound-bites in what rings more like a press release than a true heart-felt condemnation.

      I do not think that you can deny the fact that it is a non-issue in most Jewish communities right now. It should be a major issue – just as Darfur was. I sure did hear the fact that Israel takes in Darfurian refugees paraded around as an espousal of Israeli tolerance a few years ago… and then most of those voices have fallen silent about Israeli intolerance striking back.

      But I’m glad that I’m not the only one making the connection. While I recognize that there are many passive opponents to the xenophobia, I stand by my argument. There is no actual pressure coming from most mainstream Jewish organizations, and certainly not the wider Jewish community. There is not even an attempt at it- as there was against Sudan and China in 2007.

      • hophmi says:

        “But by and large, the Jewish voices genuinely shouting in opposition to the rise in xenophobia are a small fringe – primarily leftist Zionist organizations and immigrant rights organizations. ”

        Read the article. The AJC is mentioned, as is the AJWS, and JCPA. The AJC and JCPA are not leftist orgs. They are quite mainstream.

        • Michael550 says:

          How courageous. They condemned highly violent riots, probably after loads of media inquiries. Many in the Israeli Government did the same, just before announcing that they would begin arrests and deportations. Again, most of these condemnations have amounted to nothing more than PR releases. ADL only condemned the violent riots, and then reaffirmed Israel’s need to deal with the situation. AJC only condemned those who “take matters into their own hands and use intimidation and violence” and then actually praised Natanyahu, even after he announced that he would begin deportations. At least the JCPA made mention of dealing properly with refugees who cannot return, but made no condemnation of harsh government policies.

          As an example, it really doesn’t amount to much for Americans to condemn violent attacks on Mexican immigrants – it would be expected. But to then condemn deportations and government policies actually means something. I think Jewish organizations should push for some sort of solution that would allow African migrants and refugees to gain citizenship and settle down, just as they would do if these migrants were Jewish.

          But, oh wait… yeah, then we come to that conflict again between humanitarianism and Zionism.