A plea for Jewish action against crimes being committed in Darfur

DR.EFRAIM ZUROFF, EDAH

It is fair to assume that it is not by accident that the Save Darfur rally planned for this coming week, April 30th, in Washington was scheduled in close proximity (five days apart) to Yom Hashoa. We can also expect the Holocaust to be invoked forcefully by those presenting the case for urgent action to end the mass murders being carried out in Sudan. Such a link is only natural, given the fact that ever since the end of World War II, when its true scope was revealed, the Holocaust has become the unofficial yardstick for large-scale man-made tragedies.

From 1945 on, practically every case of mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide — from Biafra to Cambodia to Bosnia to Rwanda — has invariably been compared to the systematic, industrialized annihilation of European Jewry. In fact, in recent years, this tendency has become even stronger as worldwide awareness of the Holocaust has grown enormously and the Shoa has become the paradigm of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Thus during the past two decades, the attitude toward various issues that directly relate to the Holocaust — such as racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination on ethnic, religious, or nationalistic grounds — have become litmus tests for countries, organizations, and individuals to measure their internalization of Western democratic values and their suitability to join multinational forums such as NATO and the European Union.

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While these developments can undoubtedly be considered an important victory for the Jewish people, having ostensibly turned our greatest tragedy into a worldwide vaccination of sorts against racism and anti-Semitism, they have also aroused several serious concerns. Foremost among them is the fear that the worldwide adoption of the Holocaust as the most authentic yardstick of manmade tragedy will ultimately lead to a dilution or diminution of its Jewish component. The Jewish identity of its victims will become irrelevant, the Shoa will be relativized in relation to other tragedies, and we will have betrayed the memory of our martyrs in return for universal recognition and values.

This tension between the particularistic and universal aspects of Holocaust commemoration, education and, most important, the implications we learn from the events of the Shoa will undoubtedly continue to pose a serious problem in the coming decades for Jewish leaders and educators, who will have to find innovative solutions to enable these two components to coexist in peace without destroying each other. Under these circumstances, it is particularly important that this tension and the danger of over-universalization of the Holocaust not inhibit or hinder the Jewish response to other cases of mass murder and genocide. We cannot allow the misuse or misappropriation of the Shoa, its history, imagery and symbols, and/or its moral lessons to dissuade us from speaking out against genocide and ethnic cleansing whenever and wherever they occur, and even more important to do whatever we can to stop these crimes and alleviate the plight of their victims.

In this respect, the fact that most of the world stood idly by while six million Jews were being murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators has always been an important dimension of the tragedy and one of the most critical lessons of the Holocaust which we have tried to impart to the world. But to have real meaning, that lesson has to be taken seriously not only by the nations of the world who failed to save European Jewry, but also by the Jewish people, who today are in a position to render meaningful assistance against these crimes. Basic Jewish morality demands this of us, whether we had suffered a tragedy of the dimensions of the Shoa or not, but the fact that we were the Nazis’ primary victim doubly reinforces our obligation.

We who have preached to the world for decades about the failure to save the Jews who faced Nazi genocide cannot ignore the plight of other victims of heinous crimes. Our response, moreover, will in no way diminish or impugn the memory of the Holocaust. If anything, the success of a Jewish effort against the perpetrators of contemporary mass murder, ethnic cleansing and genocide will only reinforce the power of the memory of the Holocaust and its unique importance not only for us but also for the entire world.

So as we face the terrible crimes being committed in Darfur and its vicinity by Arab militias supported by the Sudanese government, we have a Jewish obligation to speak out against the murders and to try our utmost to facilitate prompt action to save those targeted by the killers.

For years we have been preaching “Never Again,” and we have proven our dedication to saving Jews in distress time and again, but the time has now come to clearly demonstrate that the holy pledge made in the wake of the Holocaust applies to the rest of the world as well. Such activities will not betray the memory of its victims but only reinforce their posthumous honor. In the words of Hillel in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, and when I am only for myself what am I, and if not now, then when?”

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi hunter and head of the Israel office.