British Jews urged to act on Darfur

American Jewish World Service head: We shouldn't have tolerated genocide then, and we shouldn't tolerate it now.

darfur 88 (photo credit: )
darfur 88
(photo credit: )
"We shouldn't have tolerated genocide then, and we shouldn't tolerate it now," Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, told a packed Jewish audience in London last week. The sell-out event, entitled "Darfur: What's it got to do with us?" was organized by the Jewish Community Center for London with the Pears Foundation, the largest private funder of Holocaust education in the UK. Messinger was in the UK as part of a campaign to use the launch of the booklet Darfur: A Jewish Response to rally the Jewish community to action on the genocide. Produced by the Pears Foundation and the Aegis Trust, a leading London-based organization that works to prevent genocide, the booklet provides not only background on the genocide, but also suggests ways to educate others on the conflict and campaign to stop it. Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who wrote the foreword for the booklet, said: "As Jews, we have a duty, not only to our fellow Jews, but also to the wider world. I commend the Pears Foundation for the publication of this booklet... make no mistake, each one of us can and must make a difference." Douglas Krikler, chief executive of the United Jewish Israel Appeal, said: "UJIA believes strongly in the need for Jews to take responsibility for the world in which we live... We have been developing a series of activities that [enable] young people in the community to understand the significance of what is happening in Darfur and to raise their voices wherever possible." At Sunday's event, Messinger painted a poignant and graphic picture of the tragedy that is Dafur, telling stories of barbaric murders and rapes and villages that were being destroyed. Messinger said that Darfur was the first genocide to be recognized by the US, but criticized the US administration for doing "almost nothing". "Washington has proved much better at talking the talk then at walking the walk," Messinger said, adding that a multilateral peacekeeping force made up of African and Western nations was needed, instead of the some 67,000 African Union troops without proper equipment, resources or training and with no mandate to protect civilians who are currently patrolling an area the size of France. She made a passionate plea for the UK Jewish community to act, and applauded Darfur: A Jewish Response, as well as the momentum growing in the Jewish community towards a more active and vocal approach to end the slaughter. Clive Lawton, chair of the Tzedek development charity, rallied the community. He said that for the last several hundred, or thousands, of years, Jews have been preoccupied with survival. But now, he said, "things that happen on the other side of the world are our business." Lawton said that "Jews [must] be strugglers, to be activists, we're not supposed to look at the world and say 'well, that's how it is.'" Messinger urged the British government to continue to give asylum to Darfuri refugees. The audience also heard from Ishmael, a Darfuri asylum seeker, who appealed to the Jewish community to help Darfuris in the country. "I feel that I'm not human," he said. "Even here in a developed country, in the UK... I am a shadow, I can't work, I can't do anything... I'm not a full human being."