Click photo to download. Caption: A Syrian civil war refugee speaks to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as he visits the Za’atri Refugee Camp in Jordan on July 18, 2013. Credit: State Department.
By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
Not for the first time,
events elsewhere in the Middle East–the renewed bloodshed in Egypt and Israel’s
decision to release 104 Palestinian terrorists because of American pressure–have
pushed the Syrian civil war out of the limelight. But in the limelight is where
Given that we are facing a humanitarian
crisis on a scale not witnessed since the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the
seeming indifference towards the continuing slaughter of Syrian civilians,
along with the numerous accounts of rape and torture carried by those fleeing
the fighting, is a none-too-edifying reflection of where our priorities as a
society lie. During a week in which United Nations inspectors traveled to Syria
to investigate serious allegations of chemical weapons use, that old chestnut
known as “war fatigue” seems to have trumped our better instincts once again.
The Jewish community,
normally responsive to humanitarian emergencies, has sadly not been immune.
Indeed, the contrast between our response to the Syrian civil war now, and our
response to the war waged by the Sudanese regime in the Darfur region almost a
decade ago, is striking.
From 2004 onwards, American
Jews mobilized to counter the Darfur genocide. Many of us will recall that
numerous synagogues and JCCs across the country were draped in banners calling
attention to the horrors in Darfur. As a community, we invoked our own past
experiences of murder and persecution to underline the moral imperative of
preventing further ethnic cleansing.
The April 2006 rally for
Darfur in Washington, DC was a particularly proud moment. Largely organized by
Jewish groups, the rally brought thousands of people onto The Mall, where they
heard speeches from celebrities like actor George Clooney and the then presidential
hopeful, Barack Obama.
Fast forward to Syria in our
own time, however, and nothing remotely comparable to the Darfur response is
visible. In terms of understanding why this is the case, there are some
deceptively obvious explanations. The region-wide spectacle of repressive,
authoritarian governments combating Islamist insurgents has led many Jews to
wish for a plague on both houses. Moreover, Syria’s historic record of enmity
towards Israel, as well as the rife discrimination suffered by its small Jewish
community, means that we are not particularly well-disposed to the country in
the first place.
Ironically, the same logic
could have also been applied in Darfur. After all, Sudan, a member of the Arab
League, is a historic enemy of Israel. And while the perpetrators of the Darfur
massacres were Muslims, so were the vast majority of the victims: remember that
Islamist factions were present among the armed groups combating the onslaught
of the Sudanese army and its ally, the notorious janjaweed militia.