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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2000 / 14 Kislev, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Caucus speaks out on slavery in Sudan -- ON OCT. 20, 17 members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to William Jefferson Clinton. Among them were some of his staunchest defenders during the impeachment proceedings: John Conyers, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Melvin Watt.

The media has largely ignored this urgent message to the president.

It begins by congratulating the president and his administration "for your work in defeating the government of Sudan's candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council." That regime, the letter adds, "is arguably the worst abuser of human rights in the world today -- a government that continues to enslave its own people."

The signers of the letter to the president "urge you to instruct the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, to submit a resolution to the UN Security Council condemning the aerial bombings of civilian and humanitarian targets by the government of Sudan and demanding a halt to such bombings. ... This is the only situation in the world in which a government bombs civilian targets year after year without rebuke. ... At least 194 such bombings have been recorded during the past four years."

In the Oct. 31 Washington Post, Rabbi Irving Greenberg -- chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- explained the frequency and intensity of the bombings. The Sudanese government, he wrote, is "earning hundreds of millions of dollars from new oil production." To secure these oil fields, it "has fueled a vicious scorched-earth campaign, laying waste to a broad swath of territory" where black Christians and animists live.

These bombings also target hospitals, schools and humanitarian relief planes on the ground. They have also targeted -- as Rabbi Greenberg pointed out -- "a Catholic-run medical dispensary in the south, destroying the clinic and injuring six people."

Where are the American media's television crews? Where are Ted Koppel, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Reynolds? Where were Al Gore and George W. Bush during the campaigns -- and now?

Rabbi Greenberg writes: "One does not lightly invoke the specter of genocide -- the intentional physical destruction of national, ethnic, racial or religious groups as such. But the horror that afflicts Sudan is staggering -- some 2 million dead, another 4 to 5 million driven from their homes ... mass starvation used as a weapon of war. ... We cannot remain bystanders as this remorseless fire consumes the people of Sudan."

The rabbi quotes a Sudanese cabinet minister in Khartoum, the capital in the North: "What prevents us from fighting while we possess the oil that supports us in this battle, even if it lasts a century?"

Why is the Holocaust Memorial Council so concerned? Because, says Rabbi Greenberg, "We cannot do otherwise. Remembrance of the Holocaust has instilled in us a profound appreciation for the cost of silence."

The president of the United States has remained silent for the past eight years.

Last September, in the Old South Meeting House in Boston -- a historic site of the American Revolution -- the first Boston Freedom Award was given to Dr. Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group, a major force in exposing the state terrorism in Sudan. Presenting the award was Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King.

She appealed to "all freedom-loving people to become informed about slavery in Sudan and other nations, to help us build a global movement to eradicate this atrocity."

President Clinton has often invoked the name of Martin Luther King to show his own purported dedication to Dr. King's ideals and actions. Clinton has little time in office left. During this Christmas season, will he not -- at long last -- publicly denounce slavery and genocide in Sudan?

And will he not tell Richard Holbrooke -- who was very helpful in the denial of a UN Security Council seat to Sudan -- to do what the Congressional Black Caucus urges? Submit a resolution to the UN condemning Sudan's ruthless bombing of civilians!

This departing act, as the Congressional Black Caucus tells the president, would be "a meaningful legacy" of his years in the White House. What a Christmas Eve message he could bring to remind everyone everywhere of the Sermon on the Mount: "How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail. They shall be satisfied."

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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07/24/00: Open up the presidential debates!
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06/26/00: Burning 'bad' ideas at college
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11/22/99: Pleading the First
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10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
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