Stand’er Josh Scheinert has an opinion piece in the Canadian Jewish News that is a must-read. The Stand blog has it in all its glory. Thanks, Josh, for spreading the word!
The history of genocide is a Jewish one in every sense of the word. The Holocaust was a seminal event in modern history that made the world confront its horror.
Less known, however, is the story of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish lawyer and anti-genocide crusader. The term genocide never existed until it was coined by Lemkin, who managed to escape the Holocaust to America. He created the word by combining geno, the Greek word for race, and cide, the Latin word for killing. His efforts led to the 1948 Genocide Convention, making the act of genocide illegal, everywhere.
Lemkin’s crusade was an effort to make sure that the Holocaust was the last genocide. To use Elie Weisel’s phrase, it was, “So that my past does not have to be someone’s future.”
Oh, how we have failed them.
Genocide is the world’s problem. No nation or people can turn away from it. But more so than for anyone else, genocide is a problem for Jews.
We bear the unfortunate burden of being the reason for the vow “Never again.” With that burden comes a responsibility that we will never, like it or not, be able to shake. If there is genocide in the world, Jewish communities everywhere must be up in arms, working tirelessly to do what very few were willing to do for us.
Our track record so far is less than laudable. We failed in Cambodia, and two million people died. In Srebenica, we failed as 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men were murdered in a United Nations safe zone. The death of 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis was another mark of shame upon our vow.
What would Lemkin say? What would our relatives, looking down on us, say?
Yes, you can say that Jews aren’t the only ones who failed, and that would be true. But politics cannot factor into our excuses and cloud our morality. We’ve been cast in our role more firmly than others – not only is it moral, it’s personal.
Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jews and non-Jews around the world are supposed to gather and remember. We will recall how the world stood idly by as our parents and grandparents were gassed. In the end, we will have a moment of silence and vow the hypocritical vow, “Never again.”
Just a few days later, in February, the world will mark the start of the sixth year of genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region, making it, in length, a longer genocide than the Holocaust. And “Never again” will cement its transition to “Ever again.”
How much longer does Darfur have to suffer before we get the electric shock needed to jolt us into action? I wrote a piece in this paper three years ago on this very subject. In an attempt to highlight the need for Jewish leadership on Darfur, I recalled the verse in Isaiah that says Jews must be a light unto the nations.
Lemkin helped brighten that light. We have played a role in extinguishing it.
Darfur’s genocide has been happening for longer than the Holocaust – let me say it again: longer than the Holocaust – and it’s been going on right before our eyes. The region is filled with harrowing tales of mass murder, rape and destruction that have targeted three ethnic groups – the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The number of victims is still growing.
Where are our rabbis crying out from our bimot? Why are our community federations, schools and agencies not sounding the alarm bells, organizing and rallying? Until our reaction stops being one of business as usual, with an occasional mention in a sermon or at a fundraising table, we will continue to fail as a community.
I don’t want to be completely negative. I know we care and that there have been a few initiatives for Darfur that originated in our community.
Yet, until it can be asserted that efforts from Canada’s Jews have translated into measurable improvement in the lives of Darfuris and helped accelerate and boost the inadequate efforts by our government to end the genocide, we have not done enough. Taking minimal action to placate our collective guilt as a community of genocide survivors is of no comfort to those in Darfur who are praying that they, too, will be a genocide survivor instead of a statistic.
There is a lot we can do, and I could list those things here. But first, before we even get to that stage, we have to want to do something. In six years of Darfur’s genocide, we have not shown that we do.
In the Majdanek concentration camp there is a giant dome. Underneath it, in plain sight, are the ashes of tens of thousands of Jews. On top of the dome, there is an inscription that reads: “Let our fate be a warning to you.”
For the past six years, we have squandered their warning. Oh, how we have failed them.
Josh Scheinert is a student at Osgoode Hall Law School and a past advocacy director of STAND Canada (Students Taking Action Now Darfur). To learn how you can help Darfur, visit www.standcanada.org, www.sdcanada.org and www.savedarfur.org.