Hillel joins in D.C. protests against genocide in Sudan

Breanne George

Dan Gilbert, part-time graduate assistant for Hillel, opens a banner at the Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide in Washington D.C. with Eric Snyderman, a freshman at George Washington University, James Keating, senior fine arts major, and Steven Snyderman

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

The recent atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, prompted Kent State students to rally along with tens of thousands of people to stop genocide yesterday in Washington.

Hillel, the Jewish organization on campus, sponsored the trip to the National Mall where the “Save Darfur Rally to Stop Genocide” was held.

Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Kent State Hillel, said the organization has a unique connection and responsibility to spread awareness because the situation in Darfur is reminiscent of the Holocaust during World War II.

“I hope our students are energized by the rally and bring the message back to campus,” she said. “I’m saddened that so many students do not know what’s going on.”

The dire situation in Darfur is the result of the Sudanese government-supported militia group called the “Janjaweed,” which commits crimes of rape and murder to innocent people and desolate entire villages, according to the SaveDarfur.org Web site. The crimes, which the Bush administration has officially called genocide, have resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people and 2 million people fleeing the country.

Dan Gilbert, a higher education administration graduate student and employee at Hillel, helped organize the event. He said he hopes the rally creates international awareness and applies pressure to the U.S. government. He said the situation is spreading to neighboring country Chad.

“This is a true humanitarian crisis,” he said. “Something has to be done to stop innocent people from being killed.”

Numerous celebrities, politicians and survivors of genocide spoke at the rally including George Clooney, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was depicted in the film Hotel Rwanda. Rusesabagina will speak at Kent State’s Symposium on Democracy tomorrow.

Rusesabagina emphasized the spirit of the rally, which was made up of many different ethnicities, cultures and religions. He said after World War II, “the world vowed never to turn a blind eye to the crimes of human suffering.”

He cited examples of situations where the world did not keep this promise such as the Balkans, Cambodia and his personal experience in Rwanda.

He said those who commit genocide thrive not on hatred or indifference, but silence.

“In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., if the silence continues, not only will we have to repent for actions of bad people, but we will also have to repent for the appalling silence of good people,” Rusesabagina said.

Junior zoology major Steven Snyderman said the film Hotel Rwanda inspired him to take action against genocide. He said the U.S. government is so focused on the War in Iraq that he hopes the European nation takes action.

Snyderman said he believes the purpose of the rally is to place Darfur on the minds of the American people.

“Even if we just show one person what is going on, that one person could do something to create change,” he said.

In addition to the rally, Hillel will also be sending postcards to President Bush as part of a nation-wide effort. The postcards hope to remind the president of the promise he made after Rwanda to never let genocide happen in the world.

Maya Ziton, a commuter services associate for Kent State Hillel, said a common phrase in the Jewish faith is “tikkun olam,” which means “fix the world.”

“It is our duty to help those in need,” she said. “I have always believed in speaking out for those who do not have a voice.”

Contact student politics reporter Breanne George at [email protected].