Passover has come and gone this year and at the tables of many Jews, there was
talk of tikkun olam, or “fixing the world.” At the tables of some progressives
the story of the Exodus is inverted, with the Jews as the oppressors and today’s
Palestinians as the enslaved. At how many of these same Passover tables was
there any thought given to people actually living as slaves today, at this
moment – true chattel slaves? Real people – bought, sold, tortured, murdered,
their children slaves in turn. The invisible people, the ones whose suffering
does not count.
For while certain Jewish activists devote themselves so
zealously to the cause of Palestinian suffering that they have eyes for nothing
else in the Arab world, in Sudan and Mauritania, racist Arab societies enslave
blacks. For all our pride in our big hearts and our strong sense of moral
responsibility, most American Jews, and the human rights groups and campus
activist groups in which Jews are so well represented, show callous
One might think Jews who focus so much on the problems of
Palestinians would be deeply upset about Mauritania, the West African country
with the largest population of black slaves in the world – estimates range from
100,000 to more than a half-million. Slaves are used for labor, sex and
breeding. Their children belong to the master. They are given as wedding gifts
or exchanged for camels, trucks, guns or money. They aren’t allowed to touch the
Koran with their black hands.
Routine punishments for slaves in
Mauritania – for the slightest fault – include beatings, denial of food and
prolonged exposure to the sun, with hands and feet tied together. More serious
infringement of the master’s rule can lead to prolonged tortures known as “the
camel treatment,” in which the slave’s body is slowly torn apart; the “insect
treatment,” in which tiny desert insects are inserted and sealed into the ear
canal until the slave is driven mad; and “burning coals,” a torture not fit to
describe in a family newspaper.
Co-author Charles Jacobs interviewed
Saidou Wane, a Mauritanian immigrant who lives in Cincinnati and speaks on
behalf of the Movement for Justice and Equality in Mauritania (MJEM). Saidou
reports that the Mauritanian regime is cleansing the country of non-Arab
The state recognizes only Arabic as an official language,
allows only French and Arabic in school curricula and refuses to acknowledge the
African languages (Wolof, Fulani, Soninke).
The government has seized
land owned by black Africans.
Arab Berbers constitute less than a third
of Mauritania’s population of 3.5 million people, but they control the
government and military. An ethnic cleansing campaign, begun in 1989, led to the
expulsion of 100,000 blacks from Mauritania. The government and army were purged
of black officers. Thousands of blacks were killed, and many tortured, while
hundreds of African villages in the south were demolished.
the last nation on earth to legally abolish slavery, which it did, with no
mechanisms of enforcement, in 1981. Slavery was not criminalized until 2007. To
date there has been only a single conviction.
Don’t look to the UN for
moral leadership. In December 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council
elected Mauritania as its vice president and rapporteur.
WHAT CAUSES the
silence of Western progressives? Charles Jacobs calls it the “human-rights
complex.” Most human-rights advocates in the West are decent, middle-class
whites who are care passionately about past Western sins – slavery, colonialism,
Their activism is a matter of personal identity. They act to be
They are proving themselves innocent, not like the “bad
white” exploiters. They choose causes entirely by whom they can blame, and they
don’t want to be caught blaming Arabs or other
Anti-Israel propagandists such as J Street and the Israel
Apartheid activists have inverted reality in the minds of all too many
well-meaning Jews. Jews have been transformed into the bad guys: whites with
power who behave badly toward innocent, impoverished, indigenous, darker-skinned
The information about Mauritanian slavery is out there. It has
been for years. But high minded Jewish human rights activists don’t want to
know. It’s not a subject that furthers your career, or cements your in-crowd
progressive credentials, as criticizing Israel does. In the glare of the
spotlight on Israel’s civil rights failings, there’s no attention left over for
Israel Apartheid Week – and the absence of Arab
Apartheid Week – are the result of mis-educated, manipulated, guilt-ridden,
American middle-class youth. The biggest victims are the millions of people
oppressed by non- Westerners. They cannot break through the fog of political
correctness to reach the good but blinded souls of American students on campus
and other Jewish activists. Women, gays, Christians, blacks and other minorities
in the Muslim realm are left to fend for themselves. They are tortured, raped,
sold and killed with impunity.
Today’s black slaves are abandoned by
That is not what Passover is meant to teach
us.Karin McQuillan served in the Peace Corps in neighboring Senegal, and
met Mauritanian slaves serving Arab masters. Charles Jacobs is the recipient of
the Boston Freedom Award for founding the American Anti-slavery Society and,
risking his life by traveling deep into the Sudan, personally freed slaves.