Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

Sudan: From a Jewish Perspective, a Case for War

by Gedalyah Reback

From the Israeli perspective, there could not be any more frustrating a dilemma. Since the advent of the Darfur genocide in 2003, thousands of Darfurian refugees have made the grueling journey to Egypt, and a sizeable portion of them through the treacherous heat and dangers of the Sinai desert, to reach Israel’s borders.

They represent the difficulty of balancing caring for the victims of an enemy state like Sudan with the need to preserve the Jewish demographic considerations of the country. The worry is that an explicitly open-door policy will encourage untold amounts more of refugees to come to Israel with no way of perceiving an end to that influx.

Israelis’ sympathies – dare I say, empathies – no doubt lie with these victims of murder, torture, and rape. They have experienced their own Holocaust. Unfortunately for them, their Nazis remain in power unchallenged by determined superpowers like the United States and the Soviet Union.

However, their entrance into a visual Israeli consciousness provides an opening for the country rediscover its sense of existence. With our legitimacy challenged and our existence persistently wished away, the proper response in regards to these refugees is likely the proper response for ourselves – to challenge the regime in Sudan.

Body left to rot after village pillagings during the Darfur Genocide, circa 2004

As we speak, the Darfur crisis is giving way to a potentially more potent and bloody conflict between the regime in the capital Khartoum, and the nascent state of Southern Sudan centered in Juba. In 2005, Sudan saw a halt to a long-running and brutal civil war between the northern and southern regions of the country, pitting the north’s authoritarian, Arab regime against black Christians and African traditionalists in the south. That war brought 1.9 million deaths, the indisputable majority of them southerners, plus 4 MILLION refugees, DOUBLE the number of people who have fled Iraq since 2003.

The agreement signed in 2005 enables the provisional government of Sudan organize a referendum to vote on the question of independence. On January 9, 2011, that referendum is scheduled to happen. The regime in the north is more than poised to prevent the region’s independence. The loss of 80% of current Sudan’s oil to the long-embattled south seems cause enough for the regime in Khartoum to prevent secession.

The brutality of Sudan toward its inhabitants – in Darfur and the South – and the failure of foreign intervention represent a collosal dilemma for the entire world. Rwanda and Darfur are on the verge of repeating themselves, and no one seems posied to stop a genocidal Sudanese army and its accompanying, pillaging militias.

On the other hand, Sudan is in the proximity of, as evidenced by the convenience for the country’s refugees, the State of Israel. Israel and Sudan are officially at war, a reason more tremendous than demographics to fear a sudden influx of Sudanese refugees. In recent months, the Israeli government has alerted border security and airport-based agents around the world to screen for Sudanese spies – but not from the incomign refugees. Suspicions abound that they are not just a threat to the security of Israel’s citizens, but are specifically on a mission to inform on the activites of Darfurian refugees who have made the harrowing journey to the Jewish state and thus make reprisals against their families more targeted.

Sudanese President – Omar Bashir

The Sudanese state was caught red-handed moving a shipment of weapons to Hamas during Operation Cast Lead. The Israeli Air Force annihilated the convoy while it was still in Sudanese territory, killing dozens of its organizers.

Israel has demonstrated an unusually strong capability to attack Sudan despite the logistical challenges. It’s intelligence services have adequately identified threates emanating from that country in several forms, and can continue to penetrate deeper.

As you read this, Israel’s, and the Jewish people’s integrity are on the line. Will the words “Never Again” actually have a chance to reign true against a genocide in the offing? Or will Israel join a pathetic assembly of countries that have dismissed their fortitude to prevent genocide? Armenia. Rwanda. Darfur. EUROPE.

The Question of a Jewish State should be paramount here. What does it mean to maintain a Jewish state? If the country’s residence cease to practice Judaism, does it remain the state that we envision it to be? Now consider the possibility that the mantra and accompanying values it entails, “NEVER AGAIN,” is ignored by the very country which has sworn itself to prevent such a targeted destruction again (not by Babylon, not by Rome, not by Nazi Germany and not by Revolutionary Iran). Will human rights not be a priority for the Jewish people and its nation-state? Should we expect ourselves to be taken seriously if while we give credit where it is due to an Israeli government constantly fending off charges of human rights violations, we fail to advocate for the needs of other nations?

Sudan represents an intense threat to Israel, but the refugees are not the source of it. By stemming the flow of these refugees, we can help them and ourselves. We might very well be at the epicenter of the most pertinent issue facing modern humanity. And thank God we are in a position where we have the logistical and intellectual capabilities to do something about it. Israel can be the advocate Sudanese victims have long sought from the Western world.

The Jewish people have long sought to prevent genocide and speak out against it. It is by all accounts a unifying point for the Jewish communities of the world. The rage created by the Holocaust has gotten Jews in the most unlikely circumstances to become outspoken, The one Jewish member of the Iranian parliament publicly took Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to task for his incendiary statements about the Shoah. Jews feel little fear in demanding respect for the victims and their descendants, despite fears it might provoke latent resentment.

That attitude is somewhat expected of the representative Jewish polity on earth – the State of Israel. In an age where Iran’s leadership downplays the significance and even very existence of the Holocaust, and Turkey’s Prime Minister denies that genocide is even possible at the hands of the Sudanese government, Israel must stand a challenger to a rising tide of cynicism toward human suffering. No policy of Israel’s has ever approached the atrocities committed by the Ottomans against the Armenians, Nazis against the Jews nor Sudan against Darfur. Before we learn to regret it, Israel as a mouthpiece for the Jews of the world should not be afraid of the cynical ridicule of Arab states when it gets up and challenges the policies of the Sudanese state in open forum, and perhaps with covert force.

September 24, 2010

Israel Has Forgotten Africa

by Gedalyah Reback

Next year, a long-planned referendum in Sudan will likely see the largely black, non-Muslim South separate from the authoritarian regime in the North ruled by Omar Hassan al-Bashir. His regime brutally suppressed a 2003 rebellion in Darfur leading to mass genocide, rape and scorched earth. He also lead the north in a campaign that led to two million deaths in a war with the region’s nearly independent South. What this all means for Israel, I hope I can clarify in a quick manner.

The Netanyahu government has felt the small country’s lack of diplomatic power in quite an acute way. It has tested its ties with major allies in Turkey and the US, and brought unending stress the country’s supporters. Lost in the scramble to contain the damage, jumping from crisis to crisis, little attention has been paid to remedying the issue limited diplomatic power by reversing that situation, and that would include an unconventional approach to the world from the Israeli government.

Israel’s own message, whatever it is, has been invisible. It seems, even prior to Netanyahu’s return to the head of it, Israeli governments have been struggling to provide a coherent message to the world as to what it stands for. Comparing the country’s democratic principles to its traditional and modern enemies are one thing, but that does not provide an explanation for the perceived gaps between Israeli policy and international law. To me, that gap is much more minimal than certain organizations and especially certain governments make it out to be, but the controversy still takes its toll.

What many countries around the world expect of Israel, as evident by the highlighting job the Iranians have done, is to combat threats of genocide and violations of basic human rights by corrupt, tyrannical regimes around the world. Considering the desire to not justify Israel’s founding on the Holocaust (nearly 400,000 Jews lives in the British Mandate for Palestine before WWII), the country and its main demographic have been profoundly impacted by it, been haunted by it, and especially have been motivated by it.

That being said, it represents the cornerstone of a policy shift Israel ought to take, and not merely for the shallow goal of fixing its image. Simultaneously, Africa represents and untapped source of diplomatic power Israeli governments have both long-coveted and predictably neglected. The relationship with South Africa remains strained 16 years after apartheid. Relations with post-genocide state Rwanda are negligible and the relationship with Ethiopia is overtly based on the military. But even prior to all these things, the emerging crisis in southern Sudan marks the point at which things should turn. Israel should go out of its way to become the first country to recognize Southern Sudanese independence and declare its support to prevent a genocidal assault by Northern Sudan on the newly independent country.

To drive the point home that Israel is both a serious and a powerful country, covert and overt security forces, diplomatic connections and economic development are things Israel can, should and probably will have to offer Southern Sudan in a sign to sub-Saharan Africa. There are many more implications and segues to discuss on this topic, but this is in the immediacy, and can offer a positive shift not just for Israelis on the world stage, but also a stand against genocide.

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