ISSAM IBRAHEEM (right), 13, a migrant from Darfur, sits inside a vessel after he was rescued from an overcrowded dinghy by members of the German NGO Jugend Rettet. The rescue operation took place off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean Sea last week..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Kol Hakavod (lit. “all honor”) to Israel’s religious leaders who call on Jews to speak out against the slaughter of innocent civilians.
In response to the unrelenting bombing of defenseless men, women and children in Aleppo, Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef had this to say: “As Jews, we must not stay silent. The call must be heard from here. A genocide will not be allowed to go by quietly – not in Syria and not anywhere else.”
These remarks, delivered a day after Yom Kippur at an interreligious meeting bringing together Palestinian Muslim clerics and Israeli religious leaders made headlines in the Israeli media. They also won the praise of Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, who described them as “the words of a true spiritual leader.”
Just a day before Yom Kippur, hundreds of protesters led by Sudanese asylum seekers marched from Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv to the European Union Embassy in Ramat Gan to condemn the use of chemical weapons against the civilian populations in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur. They also demanded that the international community take action to stop the genocide in Darfur and hold Sudan’s rulers accountable for their war crimes.
Thanks to the widespread coverage of the conflict in Syria by world and Israeli media, the world has not remained silent in condemning the slaughter in Aleppo. However, the United States and Europe have not intervened to stop the carnage. Security and diplomatic concerns have precluded Israel’s getting involved in the civil war there. However, to its credit, Israel has provided medical care to thousands of Syrians.
There was a time when Jews in Israel and the Diaspora spoke out strongly against genocide in Sudan.
Eli Wiesel led the way in America.
In 2004, the horrors of Darfur were widely shown on television and the front pages of newspapers – human beings uprooted, children dying of disease, hunger and violence.
Wiesel had this to say: “How can a person, whether religious or secular, not be moved by compassion? And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent? We must be involved. How can we reproach the indifference of non-Jews to Jewish suffering if we remain indifferent to another people’s plight?” When the first contingent of refugees from Sudan came to Israel about a decade ago, secular and religious Israelis condemned the genocide. On Global Day for Darfur, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Tommy Lapid and Avner Shalev, the executive secretary of Yad Vashem sent a letter in April, 2007 to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to do everything in his power to stop the genocide in Darfur: “As the heads of the Jewish people’s central organization for commemorating the Holocaust – a genocide that took place while the world stood silently by – we feel a special obligation to sound the alarm on Darfur.”
That same year, former chief rabbi Yisrael Lau appealed to prime minister Ehud Olmert on the eve of Shavuot to release the Sudanese refugees held in Israeli jails and to grant them refugee status. He said, “As Jews, we cannot turn our heads from the suffering of another nation.”
A decade later, the radical Islamist regime which came to power in 1989 is still in place. Indicted by the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and genocide in 2007, Omar al-Bashir continues to pursue the same crimes that drew the world’s attention to and condemnation of the Assad regime in Syria.
Ironically, the breakup of Syria, which fueled Europe’s current refugee crisis, Assad’s alliance with Iran and the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) have relieved pressure on the Bashir regime in Sudan.
Thus, Europe has tempered its criticism of Sudan and offered millions of dollars in development aid to keep asylum seekers transiting through Sudan out of Europe. America has toned down its condemnation of Sudan and sees Sudan as cooperating with the West’s efforts to defeat ISIS and stop Islamist terrorist attacks.
After abandoning its long standing alliance with Iran last year and aligning itself with Saudi Arabia, Sudan has received billions of Saudi dollars to shore up its faltering economy. And now that Sudan is aligned with Saudi Arabia to reduce Iranian influence in the Middle East, the Israeli government has quietly asked America to ease economic sanctions against Sudan and Europe to offer more economic aid to save the Bashir regime from economic collapse.
Meanwhile, Sudan has been accelerating its military campaigns against the populations in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile.
The photos of the charred flesh of young children in Jebel Marra are as chilling as those shown of Syrian children in Aleppo. Over 300,000 Sudanese in 12 refugee camps in Chad have refused to return to Darfur because they fear for their safety.
It is time for Israelis to follow Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yosef’s exhortation not to remain silent in condemning genocide anywhere and to provide sympathy and support for its victims in Syria and Darfur.
Israel should support the call for a no-fly zone in Darfur and terminate its flirtation with the Bashir regime.
Given the dire situation in Darfur spanning more than a decade, it is ludicrous to assume that Mutasim Ali, who was recently granted refugee status, is the only one from Darfur to deserve it. One need only to listen to the stories of many of the thousands of Darfurians who came to Israel for protection to understand that their appeals for refugee status are well-grounded.
Writing in 2012 when hostility toward asylum seekers was at its height, Rabbi Dov Lipman asked Israelis: “What is the greater threat to the Jewish state – infiltrators who seek asylum and refuge or our failure to act with the most fundamental of Jewish values?” His answer: “...as Jews we absolutely must accept human beings who flee to our midst to seek refuge. That is the price that we must pay for establishing such a wonderful, democratic state based on Jewish values.”