Jewish activists on Darfur laud new U.S. policy
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Jewish activists on Darfur laud new U.S. policy

Jewish activists are giving high marks to the new U.S. policy toward Sudan, but some caution that the real test is how the strategy is implemented.

The policy announced Monday by the Obama administration includes incentives if the government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and advance peace, and increased pressure from the United States and the international community if Sudan does not.

More than 100 rabbis – including eight from New Jersey – have petitioned the administration to take a more active role in the region.

“It’s a great first step forward,” said the president of the American Jewish World Service president, Ruth Messinger, whose organization has been a leading voice among Jewish groups in protesting the genocide in Darfur.

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Rabbi David-Seth Kirschner

Messinger said, however, that the policy should not be “an end in itself.”

“We ought to see specific, concrete results” from the Sudanese government in the next few months, she said, or “we ought to see clear evidence of pressure or sanctions coming from every different place in the administration where they could come.”

The White House said its policy has three goals: an end to the conflict, human rights abuses, and genocide in Darfur; the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Sudan’s Muslim North and Christian South; and assurance that Sudan does not provide a safe haven for terrorists.

The new policy does not go far enough, though, said Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington. He chastised the administration for not specifying steps it would take.

“It makes no reference to the need to arrest President Bashir in according with the International Criminal Court’s warrant for his arrest,” he said. “It does not spell out any of the penalties or means of pressure the administration will use if the genocide continues.”

Medoff organized the rabbis’ Oct. 19 letter, which calls for “the imposition of the strongest possible sanctions on the Sudanese government, pressure on Sudan’s allies to stop propping up its genocidal regime, and practical steps to implement the International Criminal Court’s warrant for the arrest of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.”

Medoff would also like to see pressure applied to the Arab League, Russia, and China, all key allies of Sudan. He lamented the fact that Bashir has been able to travel freely in such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which receive large amounts of American aid.

“It’s important to put pressure on Sudan’s allies to stop supporting a regime that promotes genocide,” he said. “The role of Sudan’s Arab friends as well as China and Russia is something the Wyman Institute will be focusing on in the months ahead.”

One of the letter’s signatories, Rabbi Arthur Weiner of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, said that only sanctions would convince the Sudanese government to end the violence in Darfur.

“We know that the carrot often doesn’t work with governments like that,” he said. “Many of us believe nothing but sanctions is going to work to convince the Sudanese government of our resolve, as well as to pressure them to stop arming the Janjaweed and stop the killings in Darfur.”

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Rabbi Arthur Weiner

The United Nations, said Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, “has been absolutely silent” on Sudan while it is “pointing a finger” at Israel. He held up the recent Goldstone report, which condemned Israel and Hamas for war crimes in Gaza during Israel’s recent Operation Cast Lead. In response to the report the U.N.’s Human Rights Commission has criticized Israel without mentioning the actions of Hamas.

“The fact that the Goldstone report comes out attacking Israel for defending itself while meanwhile there is genocide in Sudan and there is no report and no war crime commissions put together is absolutely inane,” he said. “[Darfur] is off the radar.”

Kirshner argued that Americans have lost focus on the suffering in Sudan and activists must bring it back into the national spotlight.

“As we wondered from 1939 to 1945 who was with us, the people in Sudan are probably asking that too,” he said. “We have a responsibility to stand with others.”

Weiner praised the work of the Jewish community on the issue and noted that the letter to Obama had “Jewish bipartisan support,” in that it was signed by Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis. “We can be very proud of the Jewish community’s response and activism with regard to this issue,” he said.

The White House’s new strategy comes after a debate in which the U.S. envoy to the region, J. Scott Gration, reportedly favored greater engagement with Sudanese leaders and others in the administration, especially the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, favored getting tougher on the Sudanese government. The policy appears to combine both approaches.

The balance between incentives and hard benchmarks is “exactly the right approach” to make clear to Sudanese leaders what they need to do, said the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein. “It sends a very clear message of continued United States attention and engagement, and exactly what is expected of them to improve the situation.”

Saperstein added that the focus on the 2005 agreement, which ended a 20-year civil war between Muslims in northern Sudan and Christians in southern Sudan that left 2 million dead and 4 million homeless, was crucial, as it clarifies that the United States is fully behind the referendum vote on secession by the South. The referendum is supposed to take place by the end of 2010.

Many believe that the conflict between North and South paved the way for the six-year campaign of rape, expulsion, and murder against the residents of Darfur by the government-backed Janjaweed militia. Hundreds of thousands have died and more than 2.5 million have fled their homes to live in refugee camps in the region or in the neighboring countries of Chad and the Central African Republic.

“I’m pleased they’re taking the comprehensive approach,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said of the Obama administration.

Other advocates, while glad to see the White House lay out a clear policy, were eager to see a change in Darfur, where the genocide is believed to have declined in intensity but still continues.

“It’s great in theory,” said Sara Caine Kornfeld, department chair of tikkun olam at the Herzl/RMHA Upper School in Denver and founder of an international movement of high school students concerned with Darfur. “We’re waiting to see how it’s implemented. We need to see a lot more action.”

JTA/Jewish Standard

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