Why is President Obama Ignoring Black Africa? by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

The most frustrating thing for me about President Obama’s foreign policy is that he is letting his obsession with issues in the Middle East take him away from the most pressing and devastating humanitarian issues going on in the world: Darfur – where hundreds of thousands of people are facing starvation  and bombings – a brewing civil war between North Sudan and the soon-to-be independent South Sudan, including plans for ethnic cleansing and worse, and most of all  the horrific murder and rape campaigns going on now in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  A recent U.S. study, released May 12, estimated that during the study’s one-year time frame, between 2006 and 2007, 400,000 women were raped in the Congo, or 26 times higher than what the United Nations has been reporting.  400,000 rapes!  In one year!

How can anyone excuse talking about the plight of anyone in the world – whether it is the Palestinians or anyone else – when there are 400,000 women being raped in one area in one year.  Shameful!  We are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on helping a unknown group of rebels in Libya while we are ignoring millions of women being raped, and thousands of men, women and children being killed,per  year?

If you are Jewish, whether on the Left or the Right, you have every right to obsess on Israel – that is your religious, cultural and national obligation.  And if you are Palestinian, by all means you can complain about Israeli checkpoints which are forcing people to spend hours in traffic getting to work, or a security fence which is separating you from your friends and relatives.  But if you are not either Israeli, Jewish, Arab or Palestinian, then you have no right to focus on Israel and Palestinians or even Libyans or Syrians or Bahrainis while hundreds of thousands are experiencing death and rape and genocide in sub-Saharan Africa.  It is morally repugnant for our first African American president to be ignoring the worst humanitarian crises in our world, simply because the Arab world and the Palestinians, and many Jews, are “dreying his kup” – are distracting him – for their own interests.  President Obama needs to set the moral agenda of America and prioritize the areas that truly need our humanitarian attention: Sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan – not Israel or the Middle East.

And to the Jewish community I have a message: If we want the Administration to continue to obsess on Israel-Palestinian peace, we just need to remember that we are being selfish; we need to remember that for every hour Obama has to meet Netanyahu to pressure him, that is an hour that hundreds of more women are being raped in the Congo and another hour closer to finishing the genocide in Darfur.  We may feel that getting Israel out of the West Bank is worth it, or ending the occupation for West Bank Palestinians is worth it, but when the tally of deaths and rapes in Africa is taken, I hope it is not on our heads that the leader of the free world ignored his own homeland and left them to continue living in a hell of rapes, killings and destruction. May God open our eyes and hearts to the suffering of our fellow human beings in Africa, and make sure our President is addressing this moral imperative as he should.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

2 Responses to Why is President Obama Ignoring Black Africa? by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Adam Frank says:

    Great post.

    From what you’ve written, a Jew/Israeli/Arab/Muslim could believe that the horrors occuring in Africa are not issues that are his/her concern for any reason other than the consequences it may have on their own intimate well being — is this a correct reading of your post?

    Also, the genocide/ethnic cleansing in Darfur is being perpetrated by Arab Muslims against Black Muslims which would make it an intimate concern for anyone sharing these ethnic/religious traits, yes?

  2. I Douglas says:

    R. Asher,
    As always your persuasive perspective is informed by moral integrity and pragmatism! As an ex-S. African your plea resonates profoundly. The administration has indeed projected a tepid stance on African empowerment and the plight of the destitute. It’s also clear that domestic economic and political ills supplemented by Middle Eastern foreign policy turmoils will continue to dilute any renewed efforts – and that’s as we enter a Presidential election year!
    The catastrophe of HIV/AIDS and its attendant societal devastation (not touched on in your piece) is in fact the transcendent and defining tragedy of central and Southern Africa. Famine, civil strife, rape and genocide magnify the persistent economic and social dis-empowerment that have disseminated HIV through that continent. In that regard the administration has been very pro-active funding PEPFAR and USAID efforts to the hilt. But in as much that HIV/AIDS is a symptom of a far larger challenge, it is clear that it is only though G-8 and other international bodies that significant socioeconomic and civil transition can occur.
    The utter failure by the West to address the crisis in Zimbabwe that has rendered the most literate society in Africa destitute, destroyed and dictated by a maniacal tyrant, Robert Mugabe is sufficient mandate for your clarion call to action by the administration. The consequence of US and civil society action has been a substantially enhanced and aggressive effort by China to fill the economic and social void – and not in a benign fashion.
    I concur that engaged Jews are entitled/required to “obsess” on those issues closest to them, but these are precisely the same people that aggressively berate fellow Jews who generously direct philanthropic resources to non-Jewish charities – often to help Africans! As a community we can no longer continue to endorse such closed-minded exclusiveness. If we are indeed to contribute in a meaningful fashion to policy and philanthropic responses to many circumstances in Africa we are obliged as a community to recognize the need for both an enhanced and broader approach to engaged advocacy and philanthropy that more consistently reflects Tikkun Olam. That would be a starting point for a discussion in our communities.
    Shabbat Shalom

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