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Sudan: Walking the Walk

May 3, 2007 By:
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Protesters march down Broad Street, drawing attention to the four-year anniversary of genocide in Darfur.
Abuelgesim Mohamed, a 47-year-old Darfuri native, blames the continuing genocide in his homeland on a slew of false promises: wrangling inside the United Nations, the Abuja peace agreement, even President George Bush's "not on my watch" declaration.

But marching arm-in-arm with fellow Darfurians down Market Street on Sunday, Mohamed said that the commitment of one group in particular has been steadfast.

"Every rally I go to, it's the Jews, especially, who are helping," said the Northeast Philadelphia resident. "Everywhere I go, I see them."

That afternoon, the Jewish community made another strong show of support against genocide, participating in Center City's third "Drumbeat for Darfur" rally.

The event -- part of an international anti-genocide week called "Global Days for Darfur" -- included a series of rousing speeches by politicians and activists outside of City Hall, and a spirited march to Independence National Historic Park.

The Darfur Alert Coalition, which serves as an umbrella organization for local activities against the current situation in the Sudan, was the event's lead sponsor; there were roughly 36 co-sponsors.

During the program, a number of speakers, such as Darfur Alert Coalition president Ali Dinar, attempted to galvanize the audience.

"As citizens, we have huge power," said Dinar, a Darfuri native who works at the University of Pennsylvania's African Studies Center. "What we are very tired of is listening to rhetoric, listening to promises. I think the time for talk ended -- ended three years ago."

State Rep. Babette Josephs, who announced the introduction of a new Pennsylvania divestment bill against the African nation at the event, continued to appeal to the crowd: "The world has not done what needs to be done. So it is up to the cities and states [to] step up and do what is right."

Josephs, who is Jewish, went on to link the Darfuri experience to Jewish enslavement in Egypt, and then genocide during the Holocaust.

Fellow speakers Alan Butkovitz, the city controller, and Burt Siegel, who serves as both the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and as a board member of the Darfur Alert Coalition, followed suit. Butkovitz compared the financiers of genocide in Darfur to those who "calmly collected gold teeth from people being massacred in the Holocaust," while Siegel spoke of the Jewish imperative to "not stand idly by while our brothers and sisters are bleeding."

Jewish organizations played a major role behind the scenes as well. Unlike last year, when Jewish groups did not officially endorse the rally in Washington, D.C., because it overlapped, coincidentally, with Philadelphia's Holocaust Remembrance Day, eight different outlets co-sponsored the activities: the Anti-Defamation League, Germantown Jewish Centre, the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith International, Philadelphia's Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Delaware, the Federation of Reform Synagogues of Greater Philadelphia and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Many participants also pointed to their Jewish background as a primary reason for attending.

Sixteen-year-old Congregation Beth Am Israel member Greg Smith, for example, called putting an end to genocide "a cause worth fighting for."

"The Holocaust happened because people did nothing," said the Lower Merion High School student, who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with Hebrew writing. "So how can we, as Jews, stand by and do nothing?"

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein, who works for the Jewish Outreach Partnership and stood just a few steps away, underscored this sentiment.

"The situation speaks to us," he explained. "During the Holocaust, if people had stepped up and rallies had taken place, we would not have had 6 million people die."

Still, he said that he sensed a waning commitment to the cause.

"Frankly, I'm disappointed there are not more people here," he said, glancing around. The lack of attendance "is not a Jewish problem," per se, but "I think that as a whole, we were not able to mobilize as many people as we hopefully can in the future."

'What People Do'
Surveying the crowd from a distance, Nikki Jones, an officer with the Philadelphia Police Department's Civil Affairs Unit, estimated the crowd to be about 350 at the Independence Park site.

Siegel agreed with this figure, but suggested that turnout had been much larger at the City Hall location: "About 600 or so," he said.

Then, he added: "Success isn't how many people come, but what people do."

According to the American Jewish World Service, an estimated 450,000 black Africans have perished since 2003, and more than 2 million have been displaced from the western Sudanese region.

Despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2006, violence in the area, which has been linked to state-sponsored Arab militias known as Janjaweed, continues unabated. 

 

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