The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

November 2006

Special Dossier: Decision 5767
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Central Park protest against genocide in Darfur.

Central Park Protest
Thousands defy the rape of Darfur.

-- Bruce S. Ticker

Thousands swarmed onto Central Park's East Meadow demanding United Nations intervention in Darfur in a defiant welcome to the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in mid-September. Their message contributed to President Bush's call two days later for the U.N. to ?act? against the rape of Darfur.

Speakers preached to the converted whose T-shirts and signs called for U.N. intervention in Darfur, a western province of Sudan where more than 200,000 people have been slain during the last three years. Sudan has been accused of unleashing militiamen who raped, tortured and murdered civilians to quell a revolt by ethnic African tribes. More than two million have fled their homes.

"The violence has gone on for too long," proclaimed former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. "The climate of terror must end. The world must act. It must do it now."

As U.N. ambassador and then Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, Albright urged Bush to press the U.N. to send peacekeepers to Darfur to curtail the oppression. "We need to get the U.N. in there. What is it for?" she said to sustained cheers. ?President Bush must tell the U.N. it must go in there. There are other things going on than Iraq. People are more important than oil."

On the day before the Sunday, Sept. 17, rally, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir again rejected the intervention of U.N. peacekeepers when he met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Associated Press reported. Annan had urged Sudan to accept the U.N. Security Council's decision to replace the African Union peacekeeping force with better-equipped U.N. troops.

Two days after the Sept. 17 demonstration, Bush injected Darfur into his address to the General Assembly, stating, "If the Sudanese government does not approve the peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act."

Albright was among several leaders and celebrities who addressed a crowd enduring the hot sun, estimated at 20,000 by police and 30,000 by organizers, as part of the ?Global Day for Darfur? held in four dozen cities worldwide. The vast majority of participants were young and white. Many came from outside the immediate New York region. More than 20 buses were parked along Fifth Avenue adjacent to Central Park.

Unwittingly, participants could say they marched under the hot sun for Darfur's people because organizers shaped a circuitous six-block entry route from Fifth Avenue through the park to the protest site.

The Jewish community was heavily represented, if not predominant. Synagogues and other Jewish groups bused people from Philadelphia and elsewhere. A liberal Brooklyn Jewish group had planned to attend. Some speakers represented Jewish organizations. A half-dozen young men were spotted wearing skullcaps.

?We understand the intense pain of people going through genocide as much as anyone," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, in a reference to Hitler's annihilation of 6 million Jews during World War II. ?We join our brothers of every faith and we demand, ?This genocide must stop." Let us commit our hearts to the people of Darfur."

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on a survivor of the 1984 genocide in Rwanda, Albert Nzamukwereka, who said he was impressed by the Jewish turnout but questioned the dearth of African-American involvement.

"Why it that the African-American community is less represented here?" he asked. "Is it because they are not aware of it or they don't want to be a part of it? They should be a part of this."

Bruce Ticker community @ is community editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice