Steven Spielberg announced recently that he had resigned as the artistic director of the ‘008 Beijing Olympic Games, writing in a public statement, "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual."
Later the Hollywood mogul would add, "At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur. Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes but the international community, particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering there."
Spielberg joined two other groups of prominent figures that issued public statements this month condemning the Chinese government for its support of Sudan.
On Feb. 1′, 1’0 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called on President Hu Jintao of China to use his influence with Khartoum to help advance peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in Darfur. In a separate letter to the Chinese president, a coalition of Nobel Peace laureates, Olympic athletes, celebrities, and other notables criticized Beijing for its defense of Sudan in the United Nations and for continuing to engage in a vigorous trade relationship — oil being the key commodity — with President Omar al-Bashir and his despotic regime.
In the past five years the Sudanese government and its proxy militia, the Janjaweed, have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent people and displaced millions more. Despite these atrocities, China continues to serve as Sudan’s most significant political, military, and economic ally, repeatedly using its veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to prevent the passage of strong measures against the Sudanese government.
While China did support a Security Council resolution last year calling for the deployment of a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur, the Asian giant sought to weaken that resolution before it was passed. China also doubled its trade with Sudan in ‘007 and continues to supply Khartoum with weapons used to torture, rape, and kill innocent Darfuris.
As Beijing prepares to host the ‘008 Summer Olympics, one hopes that Chinese leaders will recognize the absurdity of welcoming athletes from around the globe for a sporting competition based on the principles of good will and fair play while aiding and abetting a genocidal government. As actress and activist Mia Farrow said recently, "China hopes that these games will be its post-Tiananmen Square coming-out party. But how can Beijing host the Olympic Games at home and underwrite genocide in Darfur?"
Ironically, the theme for the Summer Games is "One World, One Dream." Does this dream include the nightmares of the people of western Sudan?
As an American citizen, I would like to see President Bush demonstrate some of the courage and resolve exemplified by the celebrity activists, using his power to try to persuade China to change its behavior. If China does not cooperate, the president should reconsider his plans to attend the Olympics.
In so doing, Bush could rededicate himself to the cause. His record on Darfur is inconsistent at best, and he has done nothing constructive since pledging, ever so briefly, to tackle the issue in his January State of the Union address. What better way for a president to spend his last months in office than to help bring an end to the first genocide of the ‘1st century?
In a culture where celebrities often gain attention for their poor judgment and bad behavior, Spielberg, Farrow and the other high-profile activists — they include Don Cheadle and George Clooney —should be applauded for their justice efforts. Now we must join them in the struggle to save Darfur and to create a permanent anti-genocide movement.
Rabbi Or N. Rose is associate dean of the rabbinical school of Hebrew College and co-editor of "Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice" (Jewish Lights Publishing).