Thursday, August 23, 2007

Just Do It

I want to quickly follow up on this issue of Israel and refugees from Darfur. Casting aside for the moment the question of what to do with African refugees who aren't fleeing the Darfur conflict specifically (I'm sure, however, that we can all agree that all refugees deserve a hearing to ascertain their status and see if they qualify for asylum), I've been presented with loads of reasons as to why Israel either shouldn't or doesn't have the obligation to let the Darfuris in. Sudan is an enemy state, and the security risk is too high. It would threaten precarious diplomatic negotiations with other Arab states. It would set a precedent that other neighboring countries don't have an obligation to take care of the refugees. The refugees are of the wrong culture and religion. And so on.

Coming up with reasons not to do something is the easiest thing in the world. America and the EU haven't held off on intervening in Darfur because they are thinking to themselves You know what? It doesn't bother me in the slightest that there's a genocide going on. That's just not the way it works. When Bush wrote "not on my watch" in the margins of a book on the Rwandan genocide, I very much think he was serious. It's just that foreign policy lends itself to inertia, and there are a lot of voices whispering about why we should hold off, why we shouldn't act, why it isn't our problem. We say the African Union is the one with the responsibility. Or we fret about how the Sudanese government will react to saber-rattling. We don't start making large-scale contingency plans to airlift out refugees. We don't institute a no-fly zone. We don't do anything.

This is hardly a new occurrence. When the S.S. St. Louis (carrying Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany) bounced around all the countries of North and South America, looking for one to give it sanctuary, I'm sure each country could have given a variety of "good" reasons why it refused. The refugees wouldn't be able to assimilate. Granting asylum would threaten a policy of isolationism. The boat is from an enemy state--do we really know they are who they say they are?

The S.S. St. Louis is the paradigmatic case Jews and other anti-genocide activists have used as proof that countries will always try to find a way to duck their obligation to save those being killed through ethnic violence--even when they are literally pounding on our doorstep. Which is why a primary concern of Jews seeking to avert another Holocaust have, as one of their primary goals, tried to break through these layers of rationalization and obfuscation. Enough chatter. Just do it.

But still, they have their reasons. And they are watching very closely, to see if there is anybody, in fact who will take the plunge? Or is all the talk just talk. The world community is watching to see if the Jewish community meant what it said--that a country could have, and should have, taken them in. If they see us drop back into the same old patterns of endless excuses and justification, they will feel justified in having done the same. And in the future, when we or some other community needs them, they will undoubtedly wring their hands and gnash their teeth. But they will turn us away.

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