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Rabbi David Saperstein Headshot

Calling for Justice in Sudan

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I was proud to be among those activists arrested this morning for civil disobedience in the name of social justice when members of Congress, religious leaders, human rights activists and even Oscar-winning actor George Clooney participated in a protest at the Sudanese Embassy. Together, we called on President Omar al-Bashir to end his campaign of starvation and violence that threatens the live of thousands of people in Sudan and South Sudan.

We came together today with hearts both somber and spirited. Somber because we gathered on this occasion to call the world's attention to the plight of the Sudanese people suffering under Omar al-Bashir, and spirited because we know the power of collective action -- a power that brought about equality during the civil rights movement, and a power that we hope will now bring about an end to human rights violations and a beginning to peace in Sudan and South Sudan.

We are on the precipice of a decisive moment, when the path forward for the people of Sudan and South Sudan may be one of violence or one of harmony. At present, Bashir is launching attacks on people in the regions of Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Abyei. He is stoking divisions along religious, ethnic and political lines. Sudanese Armed Forces and allied militias are bombing and looting villages and massacring their inhabitants -- men, women and children -- all the while preventing international aid from reaching those in need. There is an imminent food shortage and a lack of access to medicine and clean water. Five hundred thousand people are at risk of starvation and over 300,000 have been driven from their homes. Will we not raise our voices against this gross injustice? Will we let indifference or lack of awareness leave a persecuted people to suffer, unsure whether they will ever see another butterfly, another sunrise?

As Jews, we know all too well the suffering that occurs when others remain silent in the face of atrocities. We are inspired by those experiences and by the words of Leviticus, imploring us not to stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. We are inspired, too, by our ancestors, who were liberated from unbearable slavery in Egypt, and whose Exodus allowed them to make their way to the Promised Land of Israel. We are told that in every generation, we are to see ourselves as if we had been personally liberated from Egypt. The movement from slavery to freedom was not only then and there; it is here and now. The struggle for justice is always and everywhere our struggle, too.

We cannot make the choice for Bashir and Sudan's military leaders, who all too easily got away with acts of ethnic cleansing in Darfur. The United States has shown its power to shape the world for the better, playing an indispensible role in bringing about the peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan and fostering an environment free from violence during the historic referendum and separation of the two nations. The road has been rutted, but now circumstances have been ameliorated thanks to the leadership of President Bush and President Obama, standing alongside the countless activists from every corner of this nation who raised their voices on behalf of the people of Sudan. We cannot abandon them now.

That is why we are here today and why we will keep coming back until the people of Sudan and South Sudan know peace and security. May it be speedily in our time.