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Genocide in Darfur

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor, I am God. (Lev. 19:16)

As Jews, we are commanded not to look on indifferently when our neighbor's life is in danger. Rashi comments on this verse: "...do not witness his death, when you were able to save his life!" This is our imperative as Jews in regard to the genocide in Darfur.

In this section, you will find the relevant Jewish texts on this issue, the resolutions passed by United Synagogue, the Rabbinical Assembly, and other Jewish organizations, other educational materials, and a list of ways that you can help to bring an end to the genocide in Darfur.

Let us all work together so that we will “see the day when when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world" (Siddur Sim Shalom, Prayer for Peace).

Relevant Jewish Texts

(Adapted from materials from AJWS)

  1. You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor; I am the Lord. [Leviticus 19:16]
  2. Whenever a person can save another person's life but fails to do so, he transgresses a negative commandment, as [Lev.19:16] states: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." Similarly, [this commandment applies] when a person sees a colleague drowning at sea or being attacked by robbers or a wild animal, and he can save him himself or can hire others to save him. Similarly, [it applies] when he hears [others] conspiring to harm a colleague or planning a snare for him, and he does not inform him and notify him [of the danger]. [Maimonides: Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life, 1:14]
  3. When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, because you should not allow blood to be spilled if anyone should fall from it. [Deuteronomy 22:8]
  4. Both the roof and any other object of potential danger, by which it is likely that a person could be fatally injured, such as a well or a pit in his courtyard, whether or not the well or pit contain water, he is obligated to erect a barrier which is ten handbreaths high or to make a cover so that a person will not fall in it and die. And so, too, regarding any obstacle which could cause mortal danger, one has a positive commandment to remove it, and to take particular care as it is said (Deuteronomy 4:9) “Guard yourself and guard your life." If one does not remove it but leaves those obstacles constituting potential danger, one transgresses a positive commandment and negates [a negative commandment] “You should allow blood to be spilled." [Maimonides: Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life, 11:4]
  5. If, in the land that Adonai your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an everflowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer's neck. The priests, sons of Levi, shall come forward; for Adonai your God has chosen them to minister to God and to pronounce blessing in the name of Adonai, and every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to their ruling. Then all the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. And they shall make this declaration: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, Adonai, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel." And they will be absolved of bloodguilt. Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of Adonai. [Deuteronomy 21:1-9]
  6. The elders of that town washed their hands in water at the place where the neck of the heifer was broken, and they said, “Our hands have not shed this blood neither have our eyes seen it." But could it be that the elders of a court were shedders of blood? But, “He came not into our hands that we should have dismissed him without sustenance, and we did not see him and leave him sustenance, and we did not see him and leave him without escort!" And the priests say, “Atone for your people Israel whom you redeem to God and do not allow for there to be innocent blood spilled amongst the people of Israel." [Mishnah Sotah 9:6]
  7. David Hume noted that our sense of empathy diminishes as we move outward from the members of our family to our neighbors, our society and the world. Traditionally, our sense of involvement with the fate of others has been in inverse proportion to the distance separating us and them. What has changed is that television and the Internet have effectively abolished distance. They have brought images of suffering in far-off lands into our immediate experience. Our sense of compassion for the victims of poverty, war and famine, runs ahead of our capacity to act. Our moral sense is simultaneously activated and frustrated. We feel that something should be done, but what, how, and by whom? [Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Dignity of Difference, p.30]
  8. For this reason, one human being was created alone in the world. This teaches us that a person who eliminates one human life from the world is considered as if he eliminated an entire world. [Conversely,] a person who saves one human life is considered as if he saved an entire world. [Maimonides: Laws of the Courts and the Penalties Placed Under Their Jurisdiction 12:3]
  9. Whoever can prevent her household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of her household; if she can prevent her fellow citizens, she is responsible for the sins of her fellow citizens; if the whole world, she is responsible for the sins of the whole world. [Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b]
  10. Our rabbis taught: We sustain the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, visit the non-Jewish sick with the Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, for the sake of peace. [Babylonian Talmud Gittin 61a]
  11. The modern Jew is entangled in the activities of the Gentile society in numerous ways - economically, politically, culturally, and on some levels, socially. We share in the universal experience. The problems of humanity, war and peace, political stability or anarchy, morality or permissiveness, famine, epidemics, and pollution transcend the boundaries of ethnic groups. A stricken environment, both physical and ideological, can wreak havoc upon all groups... It is our duty as human beings to contribute our energies and creativity to alleviate the pressing needs and anguish of mankind and to contribute to its welfare. [Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, from A. Besdin, Man of Faith in the Modern World: Reflections of the Rav]
  12. Our sages commanded us to visit the non-Jewish sick and to bury the non-Jewish dead along with the Jewish dead, and support the non-Jewish poor along with the Jewish poor for the sake of peace. Behold, [Psalms 145:9] states: “God is good to all and God's mercies extend over all God's works" and [Proverbs 3:17] states: “[The Torah's] ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace." [Maimonides: Laws of Kings and Their Wars 10:12]

Statements from the Branches of the Conservative Movement

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: Resolution on Targeted Divestment from Sudan

Adopted by the board of directors of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism - June 3, 2007

Background

Although the Jewish community generally seeks to avoid the use of politically motivated boycotts and other economic measures, exceptions for targeted divestment are made in those exceptional cases when discourse has failed to bring an end to the most egregious practices. The crisis in Darfur is an extreme case whereby a government is responsible for a genocidal campaign against part of its own population by supporting and encouraging the brutality of the Janjaweed militia. This campaign has resulted in the displacement of two and half million people out of Darfur's total population of 6 million, who have fled from their homes into internal camps and other squalid places of refuge, as well as the flight of 300,000 more refugees to neighboring Chad and the deaths of more than 400,000 from violence, disease, and other conditions related to forced displacement and insufficient access to humanitarian assistance.

A resolution supporting targeted divestment from Sudan was recently approved by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs meeting in plenum in February 2007. Many JCPA activists were concerned about passing a divestment resolution given JCPA's 2003 resolution, which opposed the use of politically motivated boycotts and other economic measures in general unless all other means of resolving the situation had been exhausted. There is always concern that the divestment issue will be used as a pretext to support Israel divestment initiatives. However, the JCPA plenum determined that Khartoum has been largely impervious to political pressure, and that, given the severity of the problem and the failure of other efforts, divestment is an appropriate tool at this time. This position was further solidified when the JCPA resolution received encouragement at the plenum from Amb. Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States, who agreed that there are circumstances for which divestment is a proper response.

A number of states, such as California, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut, have passed legislation calling for state funds to be divested from Sudan, and a campaign is underway in more than 75 states, cities, and universities, calling for a targeted divestment of funds from companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

Targeted divestment is the removal of investments in companies that are directly or indirectly helping the Sudanese government to perpetuate genocide. Since the ultimate intent of Sudan divestment is to protect the victims of genocide, it is important to tailor divestment to have maximal impact on the government of Sudan's behavior and minimal harm to innocent Sudanese (and to the financial health of institutional portfolios in the US). Divestment would therefore be targeted to those companies that have a business relationship with the government or a government-created project, impart minimal benefit to the country's underprivileged, and have implemented no significant corporate governance policy regarding the Darfur situation. Such targeted divestment implicitly excludes companies involved in agriculture, production and distribution of consumer goods, or engaged solely in the provision of goods and services intended to relieve human suffering or to promote welfare, health, religious and spiritual activities, and education.

Resolution

WHEREAS The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism is deeply concerned by the ongoing tragedy in Darfur, which the U.S. Congress, State Department, and President, as well as other world leaders, have recognized as genocide;

WHEREAS the crisis in Darfur is an extreme case whereby a government is responsible for a genocidal campaign against part of its own population by supporting and encouraging the brutality of the Janjaweed militia resulting in the displacement of two and half million people out of Darfur's total population of 6 million, who have fled from their homes into internal camps and other squalid places of refuge, as well as the flight of 300,000 more refugees to neighboring Chad and the deaths of more than 400,000 from violence, disease, and other conditions related to forced displacement and insufficient access to humanitarian assistance;

WHEREAS a number of states, such as California, Illinois, Oregon, New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut have passed legislation calling for state funds to be divested from Sudan and a campaign is underway in more than 75 states, cities, and universities, calling for a targeted divestment of funds from companies doing business with the Sudanese government;

WHEREAS a resolution supporting targeted divestment from Sudan was recently approved by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs meeting in plenum;

WHEREAS the JCPA resolution received encouragement at the plenum from Amb. Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supports the campaign calling for a targeted divestment from Sudan as led by the Sudan Divestment Task Force, which has identified the companies that will be targeted.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism calls upon its member congregations and its partner institutions and organizations in the Conservative Movement to participate in this effort by visiting the Divestment Task Force Website at www.sudandivestment.org/home.asp for detailed information about divestment and to work with local Jewish agencies, including local Federations and Community Relations Councils, to support divestment locally.

With witnesses to the Holocaust thankfully still living among us, it is incumbent that we do all that is in our power to stop this generation's genocide so that we may actually live to witness, "never again."

Rabbinical Assembly Position on Darfur (Updated June 15, 2007)

Background

  • Since February 2003, a government-backed militia known as Janjaweed has been engaged in a systematic program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
  • The violence began when the Sudanese government started to minimize rebel insurgency from opposition groups in the area through the use of systematic bombing and the employment of the Janjaweed.
  • The two main opposition groups to the crisis in Sudan are the SLM (Sudanese Liberation Army), made up primarily of tribal Darfurians, and the JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), made up of the Arab opposition.
  • According to recent estimates, more than 400,000 men, women and children have died since 2003. There are more than two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur and another 250,000 Darfurians living in refugee camps in eastern Chad. Almost four million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance.
  • On May 15th 2006, the Sudanese Liberation army and the Sudanese government signed a treaty that allowed for the Sudanese government to pledge to disarm the Janjaweed in return for the Rebel groups joining the Sudanese army. The leader of the SLA was also given a government position. This agreement was not signed by the JEM, who made their own accord with the government. Many members of the SLA disagreed with the ceasefire and reformed under the name Alliance of Revolutionary Forces of West Sudan. Yet, despite the ceasefire, many Janjaweed continue to rape citizens in Darfur.
  • The conflict has also expanded into Chad, where government militias were targeting refugees as well as natives from Chad.
  • The African Union (AU) is a group made up of 33 different African nations to promote peace and economic prosperity in Africa. They entered the conflict in 2004 after ceasefires broke down and are the only peacekeeping force currently involved in the Darfur crisis. The African Union is also required to keep in contact with U.N peacekeepers in the area and to coordinate with them. The African Union's 7,000 troops in Darfur are not capable of protecting an area as large as Texas, nor do they have an explicit mandate to prevent attacks on civilians. The AU extended its mandate to June 2007 and plans to increase the number of troops to 11,000. However, this expansion is impossible without additional funding and logistical support. On April 15th, AU soldiers were targeted and killed by the Janjaweed.
  • In November 2006, the U.N. and international community proposed a plan for a hybrid AU-U.N. peacekeeping force. While Sudan has indicated support for the first two phases of this plan, involving the deployment of support personnel and logistics, they have only agreed to Phase 3 - the deployment of a hybrid AU-U.N. peacekeeping mission - in principle.
  • In August 2006, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1706 to send a peacekeeping force of 23,000 troops with a mandate to protect civilians to Darfur. The Sudanese government has refused to consent to the resolution and is hindering plans to send U.N. troops to Darfur.
  • On May 29th 2007 President George W. Bush declared that the U.S. Treasury Department will bar 31 companies controlled by Sudan from doing business in the U.S. financial system. In addition President Bush targeted four individuals responsible for the violence and prohibited them from doing business with any U.S. citizen or company.
  • The Fiscal Year 2008 budget request contains $679.2 million for Sudan in foreign operations, but the President did not request any funding for African Mission in Sudan, based on the assumption that a U.N.-funded hybrid mission would be deployed to the region by September 2007. The President did request $391.07 million for the U.N. Mission in Sudan in the Contributions for International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA) account, which funds U.S. dues for U.N. peacekeeping, but according to estimates, that amount is also woefully inadequate.

Jewish Tradition

As Jews, we are guided by the teachings of our Torah. The Book of Leviticus (19:16) teaches: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor." In the Book of Exodus we learn: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 23:9). The rabbis teach us that one who saves one life saves the world.

Jewish history has been marked by persecutions, pogroms and other attacks on Jews. Most recently, the Holocaust taught us the lesson that we should not allow a similar tragedy to happen again.

In light of our tradition, as Conservative Jews we cannot remain indifferent to the plight of those suffering in Darfur. It is imperative that all of us take immediate action to stop this suffering.

The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism were founding members of the Save Darfur Coalition and were present at its initial meeting with Elie Wiesel in 2004. We consistently have called for strong action on the crisis in Darfur with resolutions passed in 2005 and 2007.

What is Needed

  • Write to your member of Congress and the administration and urge them to give $186 million in additional funds in the budget for peacekeeping in Darfur.* The president's request includes $391 million for peacekeeping in Sudan during 2008, but this amount will only be enough for the U.N. mission in South Sudan. Rabbi who live outside of the United States should urge your government to provide adequate funding for peacekeeping in Darfur.
  • Urge your senators and representatives and governmental officials in other countries as well as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, to ensure funding for Phase 2 of the AU-U.N. plan and for the eventual deployment of a hybrid AU-U.N. peacekeeping force.
  • Ask your members of Congress in the United States to support the additional funding in the 2008 budget of $276 million for emergency humanitarian relief in Darfur and Chad. This funding should be divided as follows: $45 million for Emergency Migration and Refugee Assistance (ERMA), $139 million for International Disaster and Famine Assistance (IDFA), and $92 million for Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA).
  • Urge your representative to pass H.R.2489 The Genocide Accountability Act. This legislation would close a loophole in current U.S. law to ensure that all perpetrators of genocide, no matter where they are from or where their genocidal crimes were committed, could be tried in the U.S.

For more information, email the Save Darfur Coalition.

Resolution on Support for International Action in Darfur

Passed by the Rabbinical Assembly Plenum, 2007

Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor! (Lev. 19:16)

As Jews we are commanded not to look on indifferently when our neighbor's life is in danger. Rashi comments on this verse: “...do not witness his death, when you were able to save his life!"

WHEREAS the Rabbinical Assembly is a founding member of the Save Darfur Coalition (savedarfur.org) and has been in the forefront of its activities, it is gravely concerned about the genocidal actions being perpetrated in the western Darfur province in Sudan by government-backed militias known as Janjaweed who are engaging in campaigns to wipe out communities of African tribal farmers;

WHEREAS brutal violence and killings have resulted in more than 400,000 deaths and more than two million civilians have fled their homes and are displaced within Darfur or in neighboring Chad, vulnerable to starvation and disease while the denial by the Sudanese government of these crimes against humanity and its hindrance of U.S. and U.N. relief efforts are shocking and horrifying;

WHEREAS President Bush has requested $150 million in the Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) account to provide ongoing support to the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), as well as $391.07 million for the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which still leaves a significant shortfall in their budget;

WHEREAS the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Campo has named a Sudanese minister, Ahmed Hroun, and a militia commander Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman as the first suspects to be tried for war crimes in Darfur; and

WHEREAS as Jews, we understand well the consequences of silence and global indifference from the international community to crimes against humanity and understand our moral obligation to respond and not stand by idly.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Rabbinical Assembly urge its international membership to call on their governments and leaders to:

  • Express its gratitude to President George W. Bush for his efforts and outspokenness on the issue of Darfur and for his appointment of Andrew Natsios, a former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as his special envoy for Darfur;
  • Demand the immediate deployment of the already authorized U.N. peacekeeping force and support the requests by United States President George W. Bush for funding peacekeeping efforts by the African Union until U.N. forces can be deployed in Darfur;
  • Supportthe International Criminal Court in its prosecution of the Darfur officials named above in addition to the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir; and
  • Increase humanitarian aid and ensure access for delivery to those suffering in Darfur; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT members of the Rabbinical Assembly continue to be involved in fundraising, programmatic and other activities on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition in their communities.

Online Resources for Darfur/Genocide Education

What You Can Do - 10 Ways to Help End the Crisis in Sudan

The Rabbinical Assembly, American Jewish World Service, and the Save Darfur Coalition encourage you to take any or all of the following actions:

  1. Add your support to AJWS advocacy efforts by going to the Take Action page at ajws.org.
  2. * Make a contribution to the AJWS Sudan Emergency Appeal. Go to ajws.org to donate.
  3. Organize and/or participate in demonstrations and candlelight vigils at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C. and Sudan's mission and/or the UN in New York.
  4. Make phone calls to your senators and representatives and ask them to take action.
  5. Ask religious leaders to speak from the pulpit to inform and motivate congregants to take action.
  6. Organize community events to raise awareness about the crisis on a college campus, at a JCC or at a Hillel.
  7. Write letters to the editor and op ed pieces for your local newspapers. Call network and cable news stations to ask for more coverage of Darfur.
  8. Reach out to coalition partners (African-American and interfaith/humanitarian groups) to join forces in raising public awareness.
  9. Speak to family and friends about the crisis and get them to take action.
  10. Invite AJWS and other humanitarian experts who are working in the region to present at religious and civic institutions and community groups.

Now is the time to act on the core mitzvah of tikkun olam (healing the world) by responding to this crisis in Sudan. Be a global citizen!

For more information and to take action, please go to the American Jewish World Service website.


 
 
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