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The Sudanese and the Jews

It is time for many more of us to pay attention to what is going on in Sudan and to what could be going on throughout North Africa if this behavior is not met with swift, harsh opposition

My synagogue recently hosted a program about the crisis in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan. Several Sudanese Christian and Muslim leaders from South Sudan, Darfur, and the Nuba Mountain region attended and spoke. Some of them have become friends over the past few years, as I have worked to end the genocide in Darfur and to advocate for the people of South Sudan.

Why does the Jewish community care about Sudan?

I was asked that question by one of our local non-Jewish peace activists who is also involved in human rights work. We had invited him, along with the human rights community, to join us to hear what the Sudanese have to say. For most of the peace activist left, the faults of the world are due to Christians, especially American and British “imperial” Christians, and to Israel and the Jews — at least those non-peace-activist Jews who aren’t condemning American and Israeli “imperialism.” For them, persecution of minorities in the region is the fault of the West and Israel.

The story of the Sudanese does not jive with that narrative at all. In fact, the Sudanese who came to the Temple on that Friday night consider Israel and America to be their best friends; sometimes they seem to be the only ones who really care about them at all. The Southern Sudanese cannot lavish enough praise upon Israel.

If you want to hear wonderful things said about Israel and Israelis, don’t go into Jewish communities — we like to emphasize our faults. Instead go to the Southern Sudanese and you will hear things like:

Israel saved us.

Israel protected us.

Israel helped to bring us to freedom.

We love Israel.

God bless Israel!

Long live Israel!

Israel gave help to the South during its long civil war, and Israeli companies are preparing for large scale investment in South Sudan, so the support coming from Israel continues.

It is not just the Sudanese Christian community that offers praise. The leader of our local Darfurian Muslim community gave me a bear hug after the event and thanked me, tears in his eyes. Leaders of our local Nuba Mountain community, also Muslims, now know that they have friends in the Jewish community and are profoundly grateful that we want to help them. We will listen. We will care.

When I heard that the crisis in the Nuba Mountains was worsening, I suggested to our Jewish Community Relations Commission director, Mark Finkelstein, that we reach out to the Sudanese community, just as we did in 2004 when we held a program about Darfur and launched our local coalition on the crisis. At that event, only adult male Sudanese were in attendance, and few of them spoke intelligible English. In the interim, we had eight years to build relationships with members of the Sudanese community and we celebrated the creation of the independent nation of South Sudan along with them. The Sudanese community was more than ready to work with us. This time, men, women and children came to celebrate our friendship and to share mutual concern for those suffering in Nuba Mountain.

Nuba Mountain

Nuba Mountain, South Kordofan, like Darfur, is a region populated by African Muslims who are under attack from the Arab Muslim government of Omar Bashir, situated in Khartoum, in the North. Reports from the Nuba Mountain people indicate that what was going on in Darfur is also going on in the Nuba Mountain region today. Innocents are being killed in large numbers, as the government initiates air bombardments and general terror in an attempt to force the African Muslim population off of the land.

Nicholas Kristof wrote about this just this past week. It is difficult to read his description — which echoes what I heard from the Sudanese living here in Des Moines, Iowa — without becoming incensed. The former governor of the Darfur region, Ahmed Haroun, wanted for genocide, is now the governor South Kordofan, and he appears to be using similar tactics there. People are dying in large numbers from aerial bombardment, women and children are being brutally attacked, and entire villages are being ethnically cleansed.

Omar Bashir, also on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court for perpetrating the genocide in Darfur, is still the leader of Sudan, and he’s still warmly received wherever he goes. Only a month ago, Bashir visited his new friends in Lybia, the rebels who defeated Ghaddafi. It does not make one feel optimistic about the prospects for friendly, Western friendly democracies in the region when one sees that when brutal dictators like Ghaddafi are toppled, rebel groups warmly receive genocidal tyrants whom they consider to be allies.

Why do we care about the Sudanese?

Such an appalling question. We care about those who suffer. We care about making the world a better place, a safer place, a friendlier place. We oppose those who sew the seeds of hatred, and especially those who reap in its fields.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims

There is no conflict between Jews and Muslims. There is no conflict between Israel and Muslims. There is a conflict between Jews and tyrants, a conflict between Jews and those who murder innocents of any faith, any race, anywhere, anytime. In my community, we stand with the African Muslims of Sudan and the South Sudanese Christians. Israel stands with them as well.

It is time for many more of us to pay attention to what is going on in Sudan and to what could be going on throughout North Africa if this behavior is not met with swift, harsh opposition.

We cannot wait for opposition by consensus. We need to speak out. Call your senators and representatives. Tell your government officials to act. Stop the killing. Stop it in Darfur. Stop it in Nuba. The people of Nuba Mountain, friends of Israel and the Jewish people, need our help.

Let a beacon of light come forth out of Zion; let all the world see it and learn.

Please share this article widely. We need to bring the situation of the people of Nuba Mountain to the attention of the world. The more people who know what is going on there and care to stop it, the faster governments will act and the more lives will be saved.

About the Author
Rabbi David Kaufman is the Rabbi of Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, a congregation affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also the President and Co-Founder of We Are For Israel, the home of "Centrist Advocates for Realistic Peace" and created the news site about the crisis in the Nuba Mountains, www.helpnuba.net. Rabbi Kaufman maintains an informational blog on which he posts sermons and other materials related to Jewish practice and belief at www.rabbikaufman.blogspot.com