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:

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


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:


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!