As Passover approaches, Jewish human rights groups call on Israel to "Love, therefore, the stranger" among its African asylum seekers

(March 26, 2018) Jewish activist groups concerned with human rights in Sudan, as well as rabbis and prominent members of the Jewish community, have sent a letter to the Israeli government calling on Israel to cease its efforts to deport Sudanese and Eritrean refugees seeking asylum.  Citing Jewish law and current conditions that make return dangerous and unfeasible, the signatories included T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel. 

On January 1st, the Israeli Ministry of Interior announced a plan to forcibly deport Sudanese and Eritrean adult male asylum seekers to a third country, presumed to be Rwanda. The alternative was indefinite detention. There are approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers living in Israel. Half of those could be deported under the plan.  Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice temporarily suspended the deportation plan and gave the government until March 26 to address legal questions regarding the campaign. Meanwhile, the government is still preparing for deportations to begin on April 1st.

“With the holiday of Passover approaching, how can Israel turn its back on the stranger,’ said Lauren Fortgang, Policy Director for the Never Again Coalition. “The story of Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt should be a stark reminder of a reading from the Haggadah, the Jewish text that is read on Passover – ‘In every generation, a person is obligated to show oneself as if they had left Egypt.’ The desire for freedom and safety did not end with that story. It is very present today. As Jews we should not only feel obligated but a desire to help those who have fled genocide, war, slavery and dictatorship. As the Torah says – ‘Love, therefore, the stranger – for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

Nine national organizations, fifteen rabbis and 81 individuals signed the letter. The full text of the letter is available here. The letter was signed by the following national organizations:

·      Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan

·      Darfur Interfaith Network

·      Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project at Portland State University

·      Never Again Coalition

·      New York Coalition for Sudan

·      Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel

·      Society for Humanistic Judaism

·      Society for Threatened People, US

·      T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

For inquiries, please contact Lauren Fortgang, Policy Director for Never Again Coalition at info@neveragaincoalition.org

Full text of the letter is below.

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The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel

The Honorable Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister of the State of Israel

The Honorable Ron Dermer, Ambassador of Israel to the United States

The Honorable Avraham Neguise, Chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs of the Knesset

Mr. Yaron Gamburg, Minister of Public Diplomacy, Israel Embassy to the United States

Mr. Dani Dayan , Consul General of Israel in New York

Mr. Shlomi Kofman, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

 

Re: Israel’s Policy Regarding African Asylum Seekers

Honorable Sirs and Mesdames,

We, the undersigned are American Jews who are also Sudanese activists. For over a decade, we have been advocating for peace and stability for the citizens of Sudan. Many of us felt the call to speak up on behalf of Sudanese civilians because the Torah commands us to “Love, therefore, the stranger – for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." We have followed the continued and vicious attacks of the Sudanese regime on its people for far too long. We know all too well just how dangerous life can be for a Sudanese civilian.

It is out of love for the stranger – our Sudanese and Eritrean friends – and love for Israel that we ask you to please reconsider Israel’s decision to deport or indefinitely detain Sudanese and Eritrean single men in Israel.

Although the term “economic migrant” is being used to describe these groups of people, it is very likely that the majority of Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel are just that – asylum seekers – and not economic migrants. We now know that it is very possible that Eritrean asylum seekers have credible cases as well after the February 12 ruling by an Israeli appeals court that Eritreans who deserted military service in their home country have grounds to be considered asylum seekers in Israel.

At the very least, we ask that Israel allow Sudanese and Eritrean people to go through the asylum process before the government makes any decision about deportation. According to the UNHCR, on average, 56% of Sudanese asylum applicants and approximately 84% of Eritrean asylum applicants receive refugee status around the world (as high as 93% and 97% respectively in some countries). In Israel only 1 Sudanese and 10 Eritreans have received refugee status. Meanwhile, thousands of asylum applications have been rejected and thousands more have remained unanswered for years.

We are deeply concerned about Israel’s impending deportation of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers. We believe such deportations would put the lives of thousands of individuals at risk and contradict Israel's obligations as a Jewish and democratic state.  Our ask is not that all of the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Israel stay there. That is not a practical longterm solution. We do believe that anyone who has been forced to leave their home country out of fear for their life deserves the chance to seek safety. 

There are better longterm solutions for these refugees than deportation to a third country  -- a country that can give them no guarantees for safety and a path that has a terrible and proven record of human trafficking and death. 

Through testimonies of people who were relocated by Israel to third countries in Africa, it is clear that they did not find a safe place to live and therefore risked their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya to seek protection elsewhere. Some have drowned at sea en route to Europe, while others were reportedly detained, tortured and extorted by human traffickers. Of the Sudanese and Eritreans that were deported to Rwanda, only 9 remain. Further backing up this belief is the finding by 25 Israeli international law experts that Rwanda does not fit the criteria of a 'safe country' according to the standards set by the attorney general.

The Sudanese people have suffered genocide, rape, religious persecution and constant violations of basic human rights at the hand of a president that has been indicted by the ICC for five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide committed in Darfur. It cannot be denied that Sudan's non-Arab peoples, from Darfur to the Nuba Mountains, have been subjected to extreme dehumanization from the government, subjecting them to unspeakable brutalities. 

Among human rights advocates in Sudan, Israel holds a very special place. The Sudanese regime has consistently denounced Israel for years. Many Sudanese activists under siege in their own country feel a tremendous affinity with and special connection to Israel. It is for that reason that so many have sought asylum there.

We appeal to your humanity, your Judaism, your love of Israel and the stranger. Please reverse this policy and halt the plans to deport or detain Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel. 

Sincerely,

Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan, Laura J. Limuli, Coordinator, Brooklyn, NY

Darfur Interfaith Network, Martha Boshnick, Co-Chair, Washington, DC

Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project at Portland State University, Amanda Smith Byron, Director, Portland, OR

Never Again Coalition, Lauren Fortgang and Diane Koosed, Founders, Portland, OR

New York Coalition for Sudan, Eileen Weiss, Co-Founder, New York, NY

Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel, Maya Paley, Founder, LA, CA

Right Now: Advocates for African Asylum Seekers in Israel, DC Chapter, Anna Rose Siegel, Washington, DC

Society for Humanistic Judaism, Paul Golin, Executive Director, Farmington Hills, MI

Society for Threatened People, Sharon Silber, US Representative, New York NY

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, New York, NY

 

Rabbi Benjamin Barnett, Havurah Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Jill Borodin, Senior Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Daniel Bridge, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Jodie Futornick, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Eli Herb, Temple Beth Sholom, Salem, OR

Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor-Mater, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Debra Kolodny, Portland’s UnShul, Portland, OR

Rabbi David Kosak, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Eve Posen, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Portland, OR

Rabbi Paula Rose, Assistant Rabbi, Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, WA

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Herzl-Ner Tamid, Mercer Island, WA

Rabbi Laurence Sebert, Town & Village Synagogue, New York, NY

Rabbi Jonathan Seidel, Congregation Or HaGan, Eugene, OR

Rabbi Joseph Wolf, Portland, OR

 

Elly Adelman, Portland, OR

Ethan Adelman-Sil, Portland, OR

Muriel and Irv Adler, Beaverton, OR

Anita Alltman, New York, NY

Mark Benjamin, Seattle, WA

Fran Berg, Portland, OR

Dan Berkowitz, Portland, OR

Carolyn Bernhard, Seattle, WA

Marjie Cogan, Seattle, WA

Naomi Dagen Bloom, Portland, OR

Ron Bloom, Portland, OR

Mike Brand, Washington, DC

Brad Brooks-Rubin, Washington, DC

Robert Brown, Portland, OR

Linda Brownstein, Portland, OR

Wendy Busch, Portland, OR

Bailey Campbell, Portland, OR

Scott Cline, Seattle, WA

Carolyn Cohen, Seattle, WA

Chris Coughlin, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Jon Dickman, Portland, OR

Lisa Faveluke, Wilsonville, OR

Beth Fine, Bellevue, WA

Andrew Fortgang, Portland, OR

Sylvia Frankel, Portland, OR

Marty Fromer, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Marty Ganzglass, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington DC

Sheila Geist, At-large Rights Activist, NY, NY

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University and Board member, Partners for Progressive Israel, NY, NY

Sally Gottesman, NY, NY

Sarah Greenstein, San Marcos, CA

Ashley Harris, Portland, OR

Myra Himmelfarb, Portland, OR

Beth Huppin, Covenant Award recipient, Seattle, WA

Scott T. Johnson, Esq., Los Angeles, CA

Leatrice Kaplan, Portland, OR

Dr. Ronald and Ruth Katon, Lake Oswego, OR

Joel Koosed, Albany, CA

Marla Koosed, Austin, TX

Everett Korman, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington, DC

Norrie Kurtz, Chatham, NJ

Gil Kulick, NY, NY

Karen Lamorticella, Portland, OR

Carol Lavender, Lake Oswego, OR

Debbie Lawson, Seattle, WA

Bob and Lisa Low, Kirkland, WA

Elsie Mahler Scharff, Everett, WA

Sonia Marie Leikam, Portland, OR

David Marblestone, Darfur Interfaith Network, Washington, DC

Jack David Marcus, New York Coalition for Sudan, NY, NY

Michael McCalbe, Troutdale, OR

Daniela Meltzer, Portland, OR

Susan Monas, Seattle, WA

Katherine Moore, Portland, OR

Martin Morganbesser, Oregon City, OR

Susan Morgensztern, Seattle, WA

Barbara Mutnick, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Melanie Nelkin, Atlanta, GA

Marylou Noble, Portland, OR

Edna Oberman, Seattle, WA

Dr. Dale Oller, Never Again Coalition, Portland, OR

Salem Pearce, Congregational Organizer, Hebrew College Rabbinical Student, Class of 2018

Mary Raskin, Portland, OR

Theresa Rodello, Portland, OR

Joseph Rubel, Molalla, OR

Scott Rubel, Molalla, OR

Gary Sampson, Portland, OR

Rachel Schatz, Molalla, OR

Ann Schneider, Portland, OR

Randolph Splitter, Portland, OR

Harriet and Richard Steinberg, Never Again Coalition, Lake Oswego, OR

Paula Stewart, Tigard, OR

Frida Weisman, Seattle, WA

Richard Young, Darfur Interfaith Network, Miami, FL

Meryl Zegarek, New York Coalition for Sudan, NY, NY

Jennifer Zeidman, Portland, OR

Stanley J. Zeitz, Seattle, WA

  

Cc: Mr. Reuven Azar, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Israel to the United States

Ms. Ravit Baer, Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest

Mr. Amir Sagie, Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York

The Honorable Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations

Mr. David Melech Friedman, United States Ambassador to Israel

Mr. John J. Sullivan, United States Deputy Secretary of State

Mr. Steven Koutsis, Chargé d’Affaires, United States Embassy Khartoum

 

 

Gone, but never forgotten - Wolf Pakula

He survived two ghettos and three concentration camps but many of you probably never knew Wolf Pakula. Sadly, the chance to meet him is gone, but not the opportunity to hear his story. Wolf (Bill) Pakula z"l passed away on February 15, 2018 at 96 years old. 

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Wolf lived in Portland for the past seven years. Prior to that, he had lived in Hollywood, Florida for thirty-three years and helped found Young Israel Synagogue there, but that is not where Wolf's story begins.

His story begins on March 21, 1921 in the town of Tomaszów, Poland. Wolf was one of six brothers. He had already graduated from high school and was apprenticing as a cabinet maker when the Germans entered Tomaszów on September 5, 1939. In one of the early separations of the Jews of Tomaszów, Wolf was selected to work in a labor camp. The work was only supposed to last four weeks but after fourteen weeks, Wolf escaped and returned home. 

For the next three and a half years, the Jewish population of Tomaszów fluctuated as Jews from neighboring towns were forced in and others were forced on trains to labor or concentration camps. Wolf's own parents and two youngest brothers were taken to Treblinka where they died. Of his other two remaining brothers, one disappeared and another one was also taken to a concentration camp. As Wolf tells it, thirteen members of his family -- men, women and children -- were all killed by the Polish underground while hiding in the woods. He believes that the underground group killed his relatives, with the excuse that they would lead the Germans to discover their own hiding place.

Following a number of liquidations, only a few hundred jews were left in the ghetto. Wolf had managed to stay alive and to keep working in the ghetto because of his labor skills. On May 31, 1943, the remaining jews of Tomaszów, including Wolf, were sent to Blizyn concentration camp. Wolf spent a year there before being transferred to Auschwitz. 

Because he was designated as a trade worker, Wolf was assigned to kitchen duties at Auschwitz. He even survived a close encounter with the notorious Dr. Mengele. A month later he was sent to Dachau where he suffered terrible conditions.  In 1945, the remaining prisoners were sent on a final march that took them to the Swiss border. On May 2, 1945, the marchers awoke to find that the German soldiers had abandoned them. They were liberated. 

Wolf met his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, in a displaced persons camp. They were married in 1946. He worked in the displaced persons camp until they was able immigrate to the U.S. where he became an American citizen and successful business owner. 

Despite all odds, Wolf was a survivor of so many tragedies.

In 2017, we set out to make a short documentary. The idea was to interview four Holocaust survivors. By responding to questions from students, the interviewees would relay their experiences and teach us to be upstanders today. We feel incredibly humbled that Wolf was one of those survivors whom we had the honor of interviewing. 

On April 10, we will premiere our short documentary at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. We encourage you to come and attend our small film and hear from Wolf himself. 

Wolf reflected on his luck in staying alive when everyone else in his family was killed. In an interview in November 2002, he said, "I could have been dead, too. Look what happened. Something happened that I have to be alive to tell the story."

Wolf Pakula may no longer be with us on earth, but his story will never be lost. We will not forget.

Join us April 10, 12-1pm at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, 724 NW Davis St. for the premiere of Stand Up! Lessons from the Holocaust, dedicated to the memory of Wolf Pakula. More info on our event page.

Memorial contributions may be made to Congregation Kesser Israel, 6698 SW Capital HWY, Portland, OR 97280; Congregation B'nai Torah 6510 Hoover Road, Indianapolis, IN 46260 or Young Israel Congregation 315 Madison Street, Hollywood, FL 33019.

So is this genocide?

On January 29, 2018, The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education hosted an event - NeverAgain: A Jewish Response to the Rohingya Crisis. The event was organized by the Oregon Board of Rabbis and co-sponsored by the Never Again Coalition and Portland State University's Holocaust and Genocide Studies Project. 

Evelyn Banko, a Holocaust survivor, spoke. These are her words:

I’ve been asked to address the question of whether what is happening to the Rohingya is a genocide.  As a Holocaust survivor and a refugee, I am all too familiar with what can happen to people of a minority religion within nations when those with this religion are considered an inferior race.  There are many unfortunate similarities between what is happening with the Rohingya within Myanmar and neighboring nations, and what happened to the Jews under Nazi control.  So is this genocide?  Let’s look at what we know:

The Rohingya are often described as the "world’s most persecuted minority”

The Rohingya are a minority religion and race who are forced into uninhabitable places to live with not enough food or supplies to meet basic needs.

In the past, the Rohingya were free to travel throughout the region and throughout the places in which they and their parents and grandparents lived. These places were their homes. Most knew no other place. Then, within one year, they were deemed as outsiders.

Many are currently in No Man’s Land.  Very few countries will even allow these people in, even if they could get the necessary funds and transportation to out of countries in which they are now refugees.

The Rohingya are blamed for the violence, even when the violence is perpetrated by the military against them.  In the few instances in which a small number have organized to fight back, thousands of Rohingya civilians have been slaughtered as retribution.

There is a campaign of false information and/or no information about how bad things have gotten for the Rohingya.  Journalists have not been let in to see and report on the conditions in which they are forced to live.

There is a belief that this minority is to blame for the bad that is happening in these countries.  And there is a false notion that getting these folks out by any means will somehow improve the problems plaguing the other citizens in these nations.

As you can see these are the same falsehoods that were used against the Jews during the Second World War.

As a refugee from a similar set of circumstances, I can understand their plight.

My parents and I came to the United States in September of 1940 to escape the Nazi invasion of Europe.  I was born in Vienna, Austria in January of 1936.  In March of 1938, the Nazis marched into Austria.  Because we were Jewish, life became very hard for us.  The Nuremberg laws, limiting the rights of the Jews that had been in place in Germany immediately became laws in Austria.  My father could no longer work or own his own business. My parents realized that we needed to leave our homeland.  Unfortunately, we did not have the required papers to enter the United States and did not know anyone who could provide an affidavit of support for us.

As Jews, my family fell victim to a systematic extermination of people of my religion within the borders of the Nazi regime.  I was spared the hardships of ghetto life, work camps, and concentration and/or death camps because, by the skin of our teeth and with a lot of luck, my parents and I were able to escape.  It took us two years and travel through three continents in order to find a place where people would allow us to live in peace.  Unfortunately my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins and 6 million other Jews, along with 5 million others, were not able to escape and find a country in which they could live.  

What happened under the Nazi regime beginning over 80 years ago and what is happening to the Rohingya today are similar.  Both are genocide.  Both require people from other countries to intercede and help. Genocides, unfortunately, have been going on throughout history.  And throughout history, citizens and governments have turned a blind eye to the misfortunes of others.

To quote a journalist named Philip Gourevitch,

“The West’s post-Holocaust pledge that genocide would never again be tolerated proved to be hollow, and for all the fine sentiments inspired by the memory of Auschwitz, the problem remains that denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good.”

Recently Bangladesh’s foreign minister called the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar “a genocide” or mass murder.

I will end with a quote that is think is appropriate.  I don’t know the author.

“Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless, a world in which each and every corner is a true sanctuary, where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”

May we all hope this for the Rohingya before too long.

 

*NOTE* We followed up on the deeply moving quote that Evelyn used at the end of her talk. It is a quote from Aung San Suu Kyi. We have been deeply saddened and angered at Aung San Suu Kyi's failure to protect the Rohingya people of Myanmar. We hope that she can find a way to heed her own words and bring about peace and justice for the Rohingya.

There is currently legislation in Congress to address the Burmese military's campaign of genocide against the Rohingya. To take action, visit our action page: http://www.neveragaincoalition.org/take-action/

International Women's Day

One of the best ways we can support women throughout the world is by pushing congress to pass the HER Act.

As one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated and expanded a policy, also known as the Mexico City Policy, to block US federal funding for non-governmental organizations providing health care of all kinds, anywhere in the world, if they so much as mention abortion. This ban, which was first implemented under the Reagan administration, has been enforced by Republican presidents, and repealed under Democratic administrations.

Under the Trump administration, even NGOs that would like to use their own funds to pay for abortion care and information, while using US grants to support family planning programs that have nothing to do with abortion, are barred from receiving US aid, from any US department or agency, for any health program. Ironically, the GGR has been shown to increase abortion rates-especially of unsafe ones- in countries that depend heavily on NGOs to provide much-needed health careA 2011 study found that there was an increase in abortion rates in sub-Saharan Africa (which includes our countries of focus) under the George W. Bush administration's version of the GGR.

 Pregnant mom waiting for an ultrasound, DRC. Photo courtesy of Jewish World Watch

Pregnant mom waiting for an ultrasound, DRC. Photo courtesy of Jewish World Watch

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, with fellow Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, have co-sponsored S. 210, to undo these harmful restrictions.  Senator Wyden says, "Sen. Jeff Merkley and I have co-sponsored a bill to protect funding for health care providers around the world and repeal the Global Gag Rule once and for all. Charitable organizations shouldn’t have to choose between caring for their patients and accepting aid from the United States."

There are identical bills in the House and Senate. Find out if your congresspeople have co-sponsored S. 210 or H.R. 671  yet. If not, please call or email them. If they have, you can call the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Ed Royce or  Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Bob Corker. Here is a suggested message.

I'm writing to ask you to please co-sponsor S. 210 (or H.R. 671), the Health, Empowerment and Rights Act, without concern for party lines, but only concern for the lives it will save.  As you know, the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (also known as Mexico City Policy or Global Gag Order) has been reinstated and expanded by President Trump. Although the purpose of the Act is for the US to not fund abortions, it will have devastating repercussions, particularly for women and children around the globe. Organizations that provide all types of health care such as HIV drugs, Zika virus treatment, cancer screenings, vaccination campaigns, etc., are losing their funding. There will be more unplanned births, more deaths from diseases, and ironically, more abortions -- particularly dangerous ones. 
Charitable organizations should not have to choose between caring for their patients and accepting aid from the US. I believe that S. 210 will remedy this dangerous situation by protecting funding for healthcare providers around the world. Please co-sponsor S. 210.

You can also tweet:

Chmn @RepEdRoyce celebrate women on #IWD2017 by co-sponsoring H.R. 671, the #HERAct

or

Chmn @SenBobCorker celebrate women on #IWD2017 by co-sponsoring S. 210, the #HERAct

World Day for Social Justice

Today is World Day for Social Justice. If you happen to be in Portland like us, and you're home from work on this rainy day, here are a few things you can do to commemorate the day.

1. The SEC is taking public comment on the Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act, otherwise known as the "Conflict Minerals Act." The presumed intention of collecting comments is that the SEC is considering rescinding Section 1502. USE YOUR VOICE!  Check out our action page to see how you can submit your own comment. We must not allow corporate lobbyists to dictate the future for the Congolese people. 

2. The crisis in Sudan has often been overshadowed by other crises around the world.  For decades, the Sudanese government has attached its own people.  We have just learned that Ibrahim Ahmed Omer, Speaker of the Sudan National Assembly, has received a visa for a visit to the US from February 20 to March 4. The purpose of his visit is to lobby Congress and other officials to lift the remaining US sanctions permanently. We can't stop Mr. Omer from coming to the US, but we can ask our congresspeople not to meet with him or lobbyist that may be working for the Sudanese government. Call your congressperson and/or email him or her this letter and ask that they not meet with the Sudanese government while they are visiting the US.

3. Do you live in LA, Santa Rosa, Conejo Valley or Washington D.C.? Check out Jewish World Watch's website and find out how you can Walk to End Genocide this April. 

4. Start following and/or supporting one of the organizations that works on social justice for people in Sudan, South Sudan and/or the Democratic Republic of Congo everyday. Here are just a few: African Center for Justice and Peace Studies, Darfur Women Action Group, Stand With Congo, Human Rights Watch.

It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.
— His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Again and again

At our core, the Never Again Coalition wants the world to truly be able to say "never again" and mean it.  So why is it that instead we - along with so much of the world - have to say "again and again"?

Post-World War II, we have seen numerous examples of genocides. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sudan, the Rohingya of Burma, the Yazidis of Iraq and now in South Sudan. Serious crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in Syria, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, just to name a few.

In 1943, Raphael Lemkin created the word “genocide.” As a student, Lemkin learned of the slaughter of Armenians.  He later used that knowledge to try to warn Europe of the approaching Holocaust. He is the man behind the U.N.’s first treaty on human rights: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In a 1949 CBS interview Lemkin said, “I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. First to the Armenians, and after the Armenians, Hitler took action.” Lemkin saw a pattern that unfortunately has proven to be true.  Without serious consequences, governments can and will commit genocide and mass atrocities with impunity.

South Sudan is the latest country that has fallen victim to genocide. Just last week, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights returned from a ten-day visit to South Sudan. “The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda and the international community is under an obligation to prevent it,” said the chairperson of the Commission, Yasmin Sooka. “There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan using starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages; everywhere we went across this country we heard villagers saying they are ready to shed blood to get their land back,” said Ms. Sooka. “Many told us it’s already reached a point of no return.” The Commission is scheduled to report on their trip in March.  Sadly, experts believe that the situation in South Sudan will escalate greatly in the coming days and weeks.

The situation in Syria is not a genocide but serious crimes against humanity are taking place and they warrant our attention. As the offensive to retake rebel-held areas of Allepo has intensified, leaflets with these words were dropped for civilians:

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Adolf Hitler was quoted as saying, “. . . I have placed my death-head formations in readiness—for the present only in the East—with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

To go back to Lemkin and his mention of the connection between the Armenian genocide and Hitler’s decision to take action, it couldn’t be more clear that without consequences, world leaders feel that they can get away with committing mass atrocities.  The U.N. has thus far failed to prevent genocide.  As Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. has noted, “The U.S. helped draft the 1948 Genocide Convention, which embodied the moral and popular consensus in the United States and the rest of the world that genocide should 'never again' be perpetrated while outsiders stand idly by.” President Obama has gone as far as an executive action to permanently establish an Atrocities Prevention Board.  But just as easily as the world can condemn genocide and other crimes against humanity, we have somehow not found the will to actually prevent it.

Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, a professor of genocide studies and prevention has said this about genocide: "But those who say we cannot abolish this curse upon mankind are no more right than those who said slavery could not be defeated.  It is a matter of human will.  And we make that human will."

So here’s your chance!  Not your only chance, but three small ways that you can help speak out for those who don’t have a voice:

  • The Ceasar Syria Civilian Protection Act passed the House on November 15 but now it needs to pass the Senate.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled its last meeting on the bill for this Tuesday, December 6.  Call your senators today and ask them to support the bill. Don't worry if you didn't make the call by December 6, there's still time to have your voice heard.  The bill still has to come before the full Senate for a vote.  Call today!
  • A U.S. led draft resolution on South Sudan in the U.N. Security Council is being blocked but we can still try to get legislation passed in the U.S. for an arms embargo and targeted sanctions in South Sudan. Send your representative a message HERE
  • Democratic Republic of Congo's President Kabila is trying to cling to power even though his term ends this year. Call on National Security Advisor Susan Rice to hold corrupt Congolese officials and their international facilitators responsible. Act HERE. 

Yasmin Sooka, the chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights said on South Sudan, “. . .Many of the warning signals of impending genocide are already there – an existing conflict, resort to polarized ethnic identities, dehumanization, a culture of denial, displacement based on ethnicity and in some places indications of systematic violations and planning – but the important thing is there is still time to prevent it.”

Let us give thanks, with some hope for peace.

The human rights activist community has reason to celebrate this week.  Three important pieces of legislation passed the House.  Additionally, the U.S. is currently circulating a draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudan. While these policies should be applauded, there are strong underlying reasons for these recents actions.  

The political climate in the Democratic Republic of Congo is extremely tense; and the situation in South Sudan is bordering on genocide, as the U.N. special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, noted this week.  This week also brought renewed bombings in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Here's more on the legislation that passed this week in the House:

We owe our representatives a big thanks.  Jewish World Watch has an online form to do just that. CLICK here to send a thank you message.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is circulating a draft petition in the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo and impose targeted sanctions on individuals in South Sudan. The UNSC set up a targeted sanctions regime for South Sudan in March 2015 and has blacklisted six generals - three from each side of the conflict - by subjecting them to an asset freeze and travel ban. It has become evident from Adama Dieng's recent visit to South Sudan that hate speech is on the rise and violence is widespread.

"There is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines with a potential for genocide. I do not say that lightly," Dieng said in his report, urging the council to impose an arms embargo.

There is also a bill in the House regarding an arms embargo and sanctions against South Sudan; H.R. 5996 - The Halt Arms and Promote Peace in South Sudan Act. Since the beginning of the conflict, an arms embargo and sanctions have been threatened, but not implemented. This bill calls on the President to seek a U.N. arms embargo against South Sudan, and to implement targeted sanctions against individuals who are spoilers of peace. 

Congresswoman Barbara Lee has said “The ongoing violence in South Sudan is a humanitarian crisis that simply cannot be ignored. Along with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, I strongly support the immediate implementation of an arms embargo and a robust sanctions regime to swiftly bring this crisis to an end. The U.S. remains willing and committed to supporting democracy and development within South Sudan. However, these investments can only be realized in a peaceful South Sudan.”

Ask your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 5996 NOW!