Iran and Sudan

The Jewish people should be proud of its role in sounding the alarm on a major humanitarian crisis.

sudan darfur market 88.2 (photo credit: AP)
sudan darfur market 88.2
(photo credit: AP)
In his speech on Wednesday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, President George W. Bush illustrated the purpose of remembering the Holocaust: to use the past to combat genocide in the present and prevent it in the future. "Why have a museum dedicated to such a dark subject?" Bush asked. "The men and women who built this museum will tell you: Because evil is not just a chapter in history - it is a reality in the human heart. So this museum serves as a living reminder of what happens when good and decent people avert their eyes from hatred and murder. ... And it reminds us that the words 'never again' do not refer to the past - they refer to the future." Bush continued, "You who are survivors know why the Holocaust must be taught to every generation. ... You who bear the tattoos of death camps hear the leader of Iran declare that the Holocaust is a 'myth.' You who have found refuge in a Jewish homeland know that tyrants and terrorists have vowed to wipe it from the map. And you who have survived evil know that the only way to defeat it is to look it in the face, and not back down." Yet the speech's focus was not Iran, which was mentioned only once, but Sudan. Bush reviewed, in some detail, the "staggering" human toll in Sudan. He praised the museum for "making it impossible for the world to turn a blind eye" to this genocide. And he laid out specific sanctions that will be imposed on Sudan's government if it blocks 3,000 UN troops to supplement the insufficient African Union force. "The time for promises is over - [Sudanese] President Bashir must act," Bush said. It is no coincidence that Bush chose the Holocaust Museum as the venue for his speech. Jewish groups have been at the forefront of the Sudan issue. "As Jews, we have a particular moral responsibility to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing and genocide," states the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief on its Web site. The Committee of Conscience of the US Holocaust Memorial Council played a critical role in mobilizing the Jewish community when it declared the Darfur situation a "genocide emergency" in 2004. The Jewish people should be proud of its role in sounding the alarm regarding a major humanitarian crisis. Jews, indeed, have an obligation not to remain silent, and have not been. Yet there was an anomaly in the Bush's speech, which matched an anomaly in Jewish activism: the lack of focus on the genocidal threat from Iran. There is no doubt that the Jewish world is concerned about Iran. "Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has emerged as the community's top priority, and our objective is clear," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Jewish community action umbrella group. "We view this as an existential threat not just to Israel but to the entire civilized world," he said at the JCPA's annual conference in February. But is this how American Jews are acting? At that conference, the main speeches were about the Iranian threat, but the resolutions focused on Sudan and other issues. It was decided to set up a task force on Iran and, on March 27, the JCPA board adopted a resolution vaguely urging "targeted divestment" from Iran. Why, however, has there been no community-wide effort to convince major US states to divest the billions of dollars their pension funds have invested in companies working in Iran? How is it that Iranian officials can still travel the world without meeting protests at every turn, as Soviet officials experienced during the campaign to free Soviet Jewry? Why has the USHMC's Committee of Conscience not called for indicting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for inciting genocide, a crime under the Genocide Convention? The Jewish world should not trim its activism on Sudan one iota, but its campaign on Iran should be even more insistent, urgent, visible and concrete.