“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?” (Isaiah 58:3). We know these questions as those of the Israelites in the book of Isaiah dismayed that God had not responded to their penance, but in light of today – the 100th day of the hunger strike at the prison at Guantanamo Bay – these questions take on a new relevance. 102 of the 166 men currently detained in Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike to challenge their treatment and their continued detention. The questions confront us today: do we not see? Do we pay no heed? And, perhaps more pressing, is this the fast that we desired?
As a fellow Eisendrath Legislative Assistant, Raechel Banks, wrote yesterday, “There are many ways to ‘share our bread with the hungry’ (Isaiah 58:7).” She discussed a very tangible way of helping to combat hunger in our midst (I still have blisters on my fingers from cutting potatoes for 3 hours straight). Today, however, I want to talk about a way of sharing with the hungry that is more difficult to conceptualize, but has no less of an impact on millions of lives – international food aid.
There are nearly one billion people around the world with insufficient access to food. That number is greater than the populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union combined. One in seven people go to bed hungry each night and hunger is the leading cause of severe health problems and death worldwide.
Today marks the second anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and as we consider this significant date it feels important to think about American approaches to fighting terrorism and the treatment of terrorist suspects. Despite the Administration’s continued assertion that torture produced no actionable intelligence in the search for Osama Bin Laden, that notion has persisted in the media and public consciousness. However, a recent report released by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment – the most extensive investigation into U.S. policies of torture in the war on terror- has once again sought to close the debate on this matter.
The Task Force - whose bi-partisan membership included former Members of Congress, former military officers, attorneys and counterterrorism experts – conducted over two years of research and produced an over 500-page long report. The report addresses a number of critical issues from the American conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the U.S. Military prison at Guantanamo Bay, to the external rendition and torture of suspected terrorists.
Consultation on Conscience, the RAC’s biennial public policy conference, runs from Sunday through Tuesday. Hundreds of clergy and lay-leaders have travelled to the nation’s capital to learn from experts and to share best practices for pursuing social justice at the congregational level. Catching up from home? Follow #ConC on twitter and check in for updates on RACblog.
We cannot realize the Torah’s command to repair the world unless we, as a Jewish community, consider the great challenges confronting the entire world. That is why last night’s opening keynote at the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience by Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. Susan Rice was such an appropriate way to open and contextualize our conference. With our interests in security and stability in the Middle East, working toward sustainable and equitable development in the Global South, and protecting human rights around the world, the words of Ambassador Rice could not be more relevant to our community.
On Yom Hashoah we remember the great tragedy that we as a people and as a world faced during World War II over 60 years ago. But how do we use that memory today? To what end does that experience motivate our community? Surely one answer is that we as a people must be particularly attuned to atrocities committed around the world.
Yesterday the United Nations observed a Day of Remembrance for victims of the Rwandan genocide. This week marks the 19th anniversary of the beginning of a 100 day period during which hundreds of thousands of Rwandan men, women and children were murdered, and countless others forcibly displaced. Fifty years after the international community said ‘never again’ to the atrocities of the Holocaust, the world let the people of Rwanda down.
Speaking in 2004 Rabbi David Saperstein demanded surer action to atrocities in the future, “As a Jew and as a rabbi, I stand here today because, for thousands of years, the Jewish people have been among the quintessential victims of persecution and oppression simply because of who we are, because of what we believe. We waited for others to speak out, but too often we heard only silence. “
Rabbi Saperstein continued, “Having witnessed and experienced the horrors of the Holocaust, the world collectively cried, ‘Never Again!’ Never again would we stand idly by while human beings are slaughtered because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. We are not powerless to stop the oppression of others; we have the power to speak out, to act, to intervene, to ensure that genocidal activities stop now.”
Steps are being taken to learn from these experiences and seek better ways to prevent and respond to atrocities around the world. In 2012 President Obama unveiled the Atrocities Prevention Board, an interagency board to ensure that genocide prevention is a top priority in U.S. foreign policy. A warlord responsible for mass violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had his first day in court at the Hague last month. We owe it to the memory of the Holocaust and the memory of Rwanda to strengthen and support these important advances.
The recent hunger strike at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay has thrown the controversy surrounding the prison back into the news cycle. The hunger strike, which began several weeks ago, has grown to include at least 39 of the 166 men in custody (nearly a quarter of the detainees, and those are only the ones that the Department of Defense will confirm; many believe the number is much higher). DoD has confirmed that several of these men have lost upwards of 20-30 pounds, and ten of them are currently being force-fed.
January 27th, known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the date that marks the liberation of Auschwitz. This year, to commemorate the occasion, President Obama said that the United States resolves “…to stay true to the principle of ‘Never Again.’” Now, as Iran races to develop nuclear weapons , we must ask ourselves the question: What have we done to live up to the words, “Never Again”?
As Americans, we can be proud that over the past several years, the U.S. government has instituted increasingly tougher sanctions on Iran. Today, American companies, including their foreign subsidiaries, are prohibited from doing business in Iran with the exception of the sale of food and medicine. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of our foreign friends and allies.
Speaking to thousands of AIPAC members on Monday, Vice President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapon capabilities.“We’re not looking for war,” explained the Vice President, “We’re looking to and ready to negotiate peacefully, but all options, including military options, are on the table.” Read more…