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Does the Save Darfur Coalition Have a Hidden Pro-Israel Agenda?

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Another in a series, "How to Think About Darfur," by James North

When I started looking into Darfur,
I said right at the start that I was suspicious that the solidarity
movement, or at least some part of it, was using the conflict to attack
"Arabs" and distract attention from occupied Palestine. Some readers
of my posts here have had the same misgivings.

A 2006 article in the Jerusalem Post
is revealing. It points out that the Save Darfur Coalition "was
actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish
community;" two key founding organizations were the American Jewish World Service and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
(In passing, I wonder if any U.S. newspaper did – or could – look at the Coalition’s origins so frankly.)

Two of the people I most admire are I.F. Stone, the great investigative journalist (1907-1989), and Noam Chomsky.
Both Stone and Chomsky believe that you should argue your case with
facts: that personal attacks, speculation about the other side’s
motives, only weaken your argument. I agree, but not totally. One of the great strengths of Mondoweiss is
that Phil Weiss is not afraid to use his own experience to write about
his complicated feelings about being Jewish in America, his sense of
being an outsider, his family’s (not historically unwarranted)
suspicion of Gentiles. He points out that these feelings
are still widespread among American Jews, and that they contribute to the strength of the Israel lobby – with terrible consequences for Palestinians, other Arabs, Americans, and even Israel itself.

Even though I was raised in a neighborhood in Chicago that had a large Jewish population,
I don’t identify with Phil Weiss. For whatever reasons, I’ve always
felt fully at home in America, and I was never taught the Nazis could
come for me. So I find his fearless writing about this subject
indispensable.

I don’t think Stone and Chomsky are entirely right. You do have to
start with facts: the growing number of Israeli colonists in Palestine,
daily life in occupied Hebron,
for example. But you also have to get personal; you have to try and
analyze, why, say, Jewish Americans who are thoughtful and progressive
on every other issue get defensive and go into denial when you try and
talk to them about Palestine.

Back to Darfur. My ongoing inquiry has led me to a tentative
conclusion; the activists at the heart of the Save Darfur Coalition are
genuine, with no hidden agenda. But you can’t say the same about some
of the people cheering them on from the sidelines. And even the sincere
ones should recognize that reality there has changed, and that, say,
continued calls to send Western troops are irresponsible and dangerous.

Let’s take Brian Steidle,
as one example of sincerity. Steidle is a former U.S. Marine captain,
who was stationed as an unarmed observer in Darfur during part of 2004,
when the Khartoum regime and the janjawiid were still carrying out mass
killings. His book, The Devil Came on Horseback, is a powerful eyewitness account of murder and rape.

Or, Eric Reeves, an English professor at Smith College, who has taken leave from his academic post to work on Darfur.

What about the principals at American Jewish World Service and the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum? I don’t know them, but I think it is reasonable to assume that people more aware than most about historical
mass killings would act for genuine reasons. The Holocaust Museum issued its "genocide alert" back in the spring of 2004, when the charge was much more plausible than today.

However, I don’t think all of the noise about Darfur emanating from The New Republic
is mainly based on concern for "Africans." And I’m sure that the amount
of time devoted to "Darfur" at informal conversations and social
gatherings across this country over the past few years far outweighs
talk of Gaza, or discussions of Palestinian political prisoners.

Finally, sincerity and good intentions are not enough. As I will show, the international aid agencies that are actually serving the several
million Darfuri refugees have had strong disagreements with the Save
Darfur Coalition over the past few years, and the Coalition may
have indirectly but seriously interfered with their work.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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