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.