Evangelical Christians are stepping up pressure on the White House to take a more aggressive approach to stop the killing in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
The evangelical campaign was launched last week with newspaper ads titled, “Without you, Mr. President, Darfur doesn’t have a prayer.” In a direct appeal to Bush, who has depended heavily on evangelical support, the ads assert that “ending the atrocities will require your personal leadership.”
Jewish activists involved in the Save Darfur Coalition, which blames the violence on the Sudanese government, are welcoming Christian groups’ involvement and hoping it will blunt claims that the issue is solely the creation of Jewish organizations.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir recently accused Israel and pro-Israel activists of stirring up the issue on the international stage in order to weaken Sudan and assist Israel. He added that those behind the mass demonstrations in the United States regarding Darfur are “Zionist Jewish organizations.”
Jewish groups have played a lead role in organizing major rallies and lobbying efforts in Washington, insisting that their sole motivation is to stop what they describe as genocide. But evangelical churches are running the new campaign, representing an estimated 50 million to 70 million Americans.
Darfur, a Texas-sized region of western Sudan, Darfur has been ravaged since 2003 by a government-sponsored campaign to wipe out ethnically black Muslim farmers and defeat several rebel groups.
The international community has accused the Sudanese government of dispatching militias known as Janjaweed, composed of fighters of Arab descent, that have attacked the civilian population. More than 400,000 people have been killed or have succumbed to disease and malnutrition, and some 2.5 million people have been displaced — with more than 200,000 fleeing across the border into Chad.
The Bush administration has pressed diplomatically for intervention from the NATO and the U.N. in the conflict, but has not committed to sending any ground troops.
The Rev. Richard Land, an organizer of the campaign and head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptists Convention, stressed that the ads should not be seen as criticism of Bush personally. “I see this as helping strengthen the president’s hand and enabling the president to do what’s in his heart to do,” Land said in a conference call with reporters last week. He added that the reason for Bush’s inaction on the issue is the lack of support inside the administration and in Congress, as well as a lack of sufficient demand for action from the American people.
With the mandate of the African Union force on the ground nearing an end, activists worldwide fear a renewed wave of violence that will coerce the relief workers into leaving the region and worsen the situation of the refugees.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, told the Forward that al-Bashir’s allegations had no legs and did not even echo in the Arab world. At the same time, Gutow said he does believe that his organization and other Jewish groups active on Darfur should allow non-Jewish groups to take a more visible role in the Save Darfur campaign.
“Not because of Bashir,” he said, “but because we have such a significant role that it is now important to let other groups take the leadership.” Gutow maintained that the Jews were never as dominant in the campaign “as some have believed,” and he stressed the importance of making clear that the concern over the Darfur issue crosses religious boundaries.
The Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe of the World Evangelical Alliance called the allegations of the Sudanese president “simply not true” and said that the Save Darfur Coalition is made up of members of many faiths.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.