Tel Aviv University will host the International Conference on Genocide Prevention from November 17 to 18. The two-day event will bring experts and activists from around the world to Israel which, according to two of the organizers, Romi Kaplan and Nikki Levitan, is a natural place to examine the topic.
The history of the Jewish nation is intimately intertwined with that of genocide - the idea of Zionism came about, in part, as a response to anti-Semitic pogroms. After World War II, Holocaust survivors sought refuge on Palestine's shores. And the term was coined by a Polish Jew, attorney Raphael Lemkin, who joined the Greek word for family, tribe, or race - genos, with the Latin word for killing - cide.
Although Lemkin created the word in 1943, at the height of the Shoah, Lemkin's interests went beyond the horrors of the Holocaust - he also engaged in intensive studies of the Armenian genocide that occurred during World War I in the Ottoman Empire as well as the 1933 slaughter of the Assyrians in Iraq.
In December of 1948, after Lemkin spent years lobbying for an international treaty against genocide, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. To date, 140 countries, including Israel, have ratified the convention, which dictates what crimes can be considered acts of genocide and states that participating parties will endeavor to prevent and punish genocide.
But just over 60 years later, Lemkin's broad, humanistic view is something that the Jewish people have lost, Kaplan says, "The [expression] 'never again' became 'never again for us.'"
"Our tragedy is not the only tragedy," adds British-born Levitan, who made aliya to Israel specifically to help assist the country's Darfuri refugees.
WORKING UNDER the auspices of Tel Aviv University's Hartog School of Government and Policy, Levitan, Kaplan and the other organizers hope to revive Lemkin's vision of global genocide prevention. Sponsored by the Pears Foundation, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism, Tel Aviv University and Aegis Trust UK, the conference focuses on the six decades that have passed since the convention was ratified. Speakers and workshops will revolve around the topics of helping survivors, raising awareness and promoting educational programs about genocide.
One of the biggest aims is to bring about changes in the Israeli school system.
Dr. Isaac Lubelsky, one member of the academic committee chairing the conference, remarks, "The current [Israeli] educational program, in both schools and universities, does not reflect the growing global awareness of racism and genocide.
"I reject what I see as a somewhat paranoid view, which claims that studying non-Jewish cases of genocide might undermine the importance of the Holocaust," he continues. "[I] believe the opposite to be true: That genocide victims, regardless of their origin, should work together to prevent future genocides worldwide."
Still, the Shoah has bequeathed a unique duty to the Jewish people says Dr. Lubelsky. "It is my opinion that Jews in particular should feel responsible to promote the awareness of relevant cases, such as the one that takes place in Darfur."
Kaplan agrees, pointing out that her idea for the conference was born in 2008 when she realized that the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel and that of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide were nearly back to back.
"It's not a coincidence," she says. "We were once refugees."
Today, this experience can be a boon to helping other genocide survivors, Kaplan comments. "We're dealing right now with Darfuris in Israel and we have lessons from the Holocaust."
A closed workshop will bring experts together to discuss strategies that have helped Holocaust survivors manage their trauma and how these methods can be extended to Darfuris.
This closed meeting is the exception - the rest of the conference is free and open to the public. Panels include prominent academics, as well as figures like Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former member of the Knesset; Hedi Fried, a Holocaust survivor and writer who received the Swedish Peace Prize; and Itai Anghel, an Israeli journalist who has covered conflicts the world over - from Lebanon to Serbia to the Congo, among other locales.
The conference will also host several cultural events. The work of award-winning photographer Eddie Gerald and that of Bruno Stevens, a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Time and Newsweek, among other publications, will be on display. And a preview of Michael Kleiman and Michael Pertnoy's documentary film The Last Survivor will be screened at Tel Aviv's Cinematheque.
Included in The Last Survivor is the story of Adam Bashar, a Darfur survivor who now lives in Israel. Bashar was 14 when he fled Sudan after his village was bombed. He walked to Egypt, then to Sinai, crossing into Israel on foot.
In addition to attending high school, Bashar, 19, is a co-founder of B'nai Darfur (Sons of Darfur), a non-political NGO. B'nai Darfur provides humanitarian aid to scores of refugees. But while B'nai Darfur helps the refugees find shelter, food and education, the organization also emphasizes self-sufficiency with the motto, "God helps those who help themselves."
Similarly, the International Conference on Genocide Prevention underscores the tremendous power of the individual. Levitan points out that many Israelis all around the country have taken it upon themselves to assist Darfuri refugees. It is an endeavor of the conference to shed light on such grassroots activities, and to inspire Israelis and internationals alike to do more.
For more information and a complete schedule of events, see www.couragetocare.org.il