Jewish Journal

State of Humanity Forum: ‘Darfur silence is lethal’

by Robert David Jaffee

Posted on Oct. 26, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Solar cookers spread on the sand

Solar cookers spread on the sand

In opening the inaugural State of Humanity Forum, held Oct. 17 at Valley Beth Shalom, Marcy Rainey, VBS chair of Jewish World Watch (JWW), spoke of the atrocities in Darfur, proclaiming: "Silence is lethal, and meekness is inexcusable."
Despite the brutality of the genocide, in which roving bands of the Arab terrorist group, known as Janjaweed, have taken the lives of 400,000 Darfurians and displaced roughly 2 million others, the theme of the evening was to acknowledge and honor the efforts of nonprofit organizations like Jewish World Watch, which was co-founded two years ago by VBS Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis and congregant Janice Kamenir-Reznik. It also acknowledged nongovernmental organizations like International Crisis Group, based in Brussels and led by the Gareth Evans, a former Australian parliamentarian.
Framed by music, the event began with the Gwen Wyatt chorale -- a singing group comprised primarily of African American women, who engaged attendees with three songs, including the Civil Rights-era tune, "Lean on Me" -- and concluded with Theodore Bikel, accompanied on piano, who sang the uplifting "If We Only Have Love," in Hebrew and English.
In between, there was some humor interspersed with policy discussion. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) remarked at the outset that he is from "what I think is the nation's best-named town, Sherman Oaks." As a member of the House International Relations Committee, Sherman has co-sponsored four pieces of legislation related to Darfur. He said the legislation has not achieved all its objectives, partly because the Khartoum government has prevented 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers from entering the country and replacing the ineffectual force of 7,000 African Union members.
Wearing a green ribbon that matched the green and black lettering of the Darfur banners to the right and left of the podium, Schulweis also opened with a joke, addressing the audience as "con-spirators," not "con-gregants." He then proceeded to dispel the notion propagated by some that Jews need to focus exclusively on Jewish concerns, as opposed to human ones.
"The wise person," he said, "repudiates either-or choices. The Jewish response is 'both-and.'" He cited the patriarch Abraham who defended the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, all of whom were pagans, not Jews.
Evans, the keynote speaker, an Oxford-educated author and former Australian foreign minister, whose previous peace-building efforts focused on Cambodia, gave an in-depth report of the Darfur situation, which included some startling and counterintuitive statistics.
With the Israeli and American flags unfurled behind him, the former U.N. official referred to a University of British Columbia's "Human Security Report," saying that mass killings, wars and battle deaths have actually declined since the early 1990s. Moreover, as bad as the conditions are in Darfur, with 5,000 people dying each month, Evans said that six times that number die each month in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, though that tragedy remains less known.
He also reminded everyone of the 20-year civil war between the northern and southern regions of the Sudan, a conflict that only recently ended and whose peace agreement, he said, "is fragile."
Evans spoke of the need to impose economic sanctions and a no-fly zone on Sudan and to prosecute its leaders in the International Criminal Court. He said that all of this can be accomplished with "political will," in spite of the objections of China. He pointed out that in the midst of our present Iraq War, there is less of a mindset toward resolving international problems militarily. "Life is a learning experience, it seems, even for neocons."
The final speaker, Kamenir-Reznik, reported that in the two years since it was founded, JWW has grown to include about 45 synagogues in the L.A. area. She said the organization has impacted legislation by lobbying Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently signed a bill calling for targeted divestment by the state teachers' retirement association and state pension funds from companies like PetroChina that financially support the Sudanese government.
Although Kamenir-Reznik did show a slide with the governor, Don Cheadle and George Clooney, the pictures were not simply photo opportunities. They also documented JWW's contributions in the construction of medical clinics and water wells.
In addition, the organization, which Kamenir-Reznik said has raised "in excess of $800,000," has trained Darfurian women to manufacture solar cookers, empowering the women economically and saving them from the hazards of being raped on their journeys to find firewood.
Finally, Cantor Phil Baron led the congregation in "Peace Will Come to Us," featuring both Hebrew and Arabic verses. The song is actually titled, "Salaam" in Arabic, ironic given that the marauding Janjaweed have massacred Africans, who, like the Kosovars and Bosnians, other recent victims of genocide, are primarily Muslim.

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