Federation Initiatives

Jews Have a Moral Obligation to Speak up in Support of the Syrian People

By Jonathan Gilbert, Chair

and Luis Fleischman, Executive Director

Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council

The Jewish community has always been outspoken in the face of massacres or genocides. The organized Jewish community played a remarkable role in speaking up on behalf of the victims of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and on behalf of the victims of the Darfur area, who were being massacred by the Sudanese government. In both cases, the U.S. government and the international community eventually took action that succeeded in stopping or at least significantly diminishing the intensity of the tragedies.

The Bosnian and Darfur cases both demonstrated evidence of genocide while they were occurring. It made sense that the Jewish people, having been victims of genocide themselves, would speak up to make sure that the world is held accountable.

In Syria, the ruthless regime of Bashar Al Assad is carrying out a massacre against dissidents who dare to stand up and demand change from his arch-oppressive Baathist dictatorship. Some reports state that 10,000 people have been killed within the past year and that thousands more have been injured. The slaughter reportedly includes entire neighborhoods that have vanished in a generalized merciless murder that includes women and children.

The Jewish community has kept a relatively low profile, although it has occasionally condemned specific actions of the Syrian government. Yet, it has not assumed the same moral approach and determination adopted in the Bosnia and Darfur cases.

There are reasons for this attitude. What is happening in Syria does not appear to be genocide on the scale of the Holocaust. Additionally, Syria is an Arab country at war with the State of Israel. If the Jewish community did speak up, Assad will undoubtedly blame Israel and the Jews for inciting uprisings and conspiring to overthrow the Syrian government; this is part of his standard operating procedure. Lastly, there is an element of fear that should Assad leave power, the next government could be a radical Islamic alternative.

Arab and Syrian anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda has been vicious and poignant. The Syrian government has promoted Holocaust denial, compared Zionism to Nazism, and revived the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” among other activities. These arguments have been used to deflect responsibility and to buttress power. However, we must not be deterred by this demagoguery. Syrian protestors know very well why they are rising up against the Baathist regime. The situation of oppression is absolutely intolerable for the Syrians and has caused the Assad regime to lose its legitimacy. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that most Syrian dissidents will seriously consider any arguments blaming the Jews.

We have witnessed heroic Syrians losing fear and confronting the regime. They deserve our admiration and respect. This is a historic opportunity to express solidarity and connect with the Syrian people who, for so many years, have been forced to fight and die against Israel. If the Jewish community supports the dissidents and initiates a “Stop Syrian Slaughter” campaign, there might be a chance to develop reconciliation with an important sector of the Arab population. The people of Bosnia and Darfur still remember that American Jews stood by them when they needed help.

We concede that the future of the Arab world is uncertain and frightening. However, despite such legitimate doubts, we cannot turn our backs on people who are fighting for their freedom against oppression, especially when the oppressor is also a government that has attempted to distract its population and turn them against Israel and the Jewish people. The Assad regime is Iran’s main ally and they have strategically supported and harbored Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist.

The magnitude of the horror in Syria is a human rights issue for which the Jewish people must not be silent. Human rights and murder of innocent people cannot be justified, whether it is comparable to the Holocaust or not. A government-initiated massacre constitutes a crime against humanity. A tragedy like this should not be narrowly defined as genocide in order for our community to act. It is a matter of moral intuition and does not require any further justification.

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