Canadian Institute for Jewish Research
L'institut Canadien de Recherches sur le Judaisme
Strength of Israel will not lie


On December 20, 2011, Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, embarked on his first foreign voyage as leader of the infant country. His destination? The Jewish state of Israel.


President Shimon Peres hailed the visit as a “moving and historic moment,” saying “Israel has supported and will continue to support [South Sudan] in all areas in order to strengthen and develop it. We know that you courageously and wisely struggled against all odds to establish your country and for us, the birth of South Sudan is a milestone in the history of the Middle East.”


In response, Kiir said he was moved to be in Israel and “walk on the soil of the Promised Land,” and that “with him are all South Sudanese people.” According to Kir, “Without [Israel], we would not have arisen.”


Below is a speech given last September by Simon Deng, a former Sudanese slave, at The Perils of Global Intolerance Conference, a counter-event to the UN’s anti-Israel Durban III Conference. His words in part explain the deep bond felt by the South Sudanese for Israel.—Ed.


Simon Deng:

I want to thank the organizers of this conference, The Perils of Global Intolerance. It is a great honor for me and it is a privilege to be among today’s distinguished speakers.

I came here as a friend of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. I came to protest this Durban conference which is based on a set of lies. It is organized by nations who are themselves guilty of the worst kinds of oppression. It will not help the victims of racism. It will only isolate and target the Jewish state. It is a tool of the enemies of Israel.

The UN has itself become a tool against Israel. For over 50 years, 82 percent of the UN General Assembly emergency meetings have been about condemning one state—Israel. Hitler couldn’t have been made happier. The Durban Conference is an outrage. All decent people know that. But friends, I come here today with a radical idea. I come to tell you that there are peoples who suffer from the UN’s anti-Israelism even more than the Israelis. I belong to one of those people. Please hear me out.

By exaggerating Palestinian suffering, and by blaming the Jews for it, the UN has muffled the cries of those who suffer on a far larger scale. For over fifty years the indigenous black population of Sudan—Christians and Muslims alike—has been the victim of the brutal, racist Arab Muslim regime in Khartoum.

In South Sudan, my homeland, about 4 million innocent men, women and children were slaughtered from 1955 to 2005. Seven million were ethnically cleansed and they became the largest refugee group since World War II. The UN is concerned about the so-called Palestinian refugees. They dedicated a separate agency for them and they are treated with a special privilege. Meanwhile, my people, ethnically cleansed, murdered and enslaved, are relatively ignored.

The UN refuses to tell the world the truth about the real causes of Sudan’s conflicts. Who knows really what is happening in Darfur? It is not a “tribal conflict.” It is a conflict rooted in Arab colonialism well known in north Africa. In Darfur, a region in the Western Sudan, everybody is Muslim. Everybody is Muslim because the Arabs invaded the North of Africa and converted the indigenous people to Islam. In the eyes of the Islamists in Khartoum, however, the Darfuris are not Muslim enough. But the Darfuris do not want to be Arabized. They love their own African languages and dress and customs. The Arab response is genocide! But nobody at the UN tells the truth about Darfur.… Do you hear the UN condemn Arab racism against blacks?

What you find on the pages of the New York Times, or in the record of the UN condemnations is “Israeli crimes” and Palestinian suffering. My people have been driven off the front pages because of the exaggerations about Palestinian suffering. What Israel does is portrayed as a Western sin. But the truth is that the real sin happens when the West abandons us: the victims of Arab/Islamic apartheid.

Chattel slavery was practiced for centuries in Sudan. It was revived as a tool of war in the early 90s. Khartoum declared jihad against my people and this legitimized taking slaves as war booty. Arab militias were sent to destroy Southern villages and were encouraged to take African women and children as slaves. We believe that up to 200,000 were kidnapped, brought to the North and sold into slavery.

I am a living proof of this crime against humanity.… I was only nine years old when an Arab neighbor named Abdullahi tricked me into following him to a boat. The boat wound up in Northern Sudan where he gave me as a gift to his family. For three and a half years I was their slave going through something that no child should ever go through: brutal beatings and humiliations; working around the clock; sleeping on the ground with animals; eating the family’s leftovers. During those three years I was unable to say the word “no.…”

The United Nations knew about the enslavement of South Sudanese by the Arabs. Their own staff reported it. It took UNICEF—under pressure from the Jewish-led American Anti-Slavery Group—sixteen years to acknowledge what was happening. I want to publicly thank my friend Dr. Charles Jacobs for leading the anti-slavery fight.

But the Sudanese government and the Arab League pressured UNICEF, and UNICEF backtracked, and started to criticize those who worked to liberate Sudanese slaves. In 1998, Dr. Gaspar Biro, the courageous UN Special Reporter on Human Rights in Sudan who reported on slavery, resigned in protest of the UN’s actions. My friends, today, tens of thousands of black South Sudanese still serve their masters in the North and the UN is silent about that. It would offend the OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] and the Arab League.

As a former slave and a victim of the worst sort of racism, allow me to explain why I think calling Israel a racist state is absolutely absurd and immoral. I have been to Israel five times visiting the Sudanese refugees. Let me tell you how they ended up there. These are Sudanese who fled Arab racism, hoping to find shelter in Egypt. They were wrong. When Egyptian security forces slaughtered twenty-six black refugees in Cairo who were protesting Egyptian racism, the Sudanese realized that the Arab racism is the same in Khartoum or Cairo. They needed shelter and they found it in Israel. Dodging the bullets of the Egyptian border patrols and walking for very long distances, the refugees’ only hope was to reach Israel…where they knew they would be safe. Black Muslims from Darfur chose Israel above all the other Arab-Muslim states of the area.… And the Arabs say Israel is racist!

In Israel, black Sudanese, Christian and Muslim were welcomed and treated like human beings. Just go and ask them, like I have done. They told me that compared to the situation in Egypt, Israel is “heaven.” Is Israel a racist state? To my people, the people who know racism—the answer is absolutely not. Israel is a state of people who are the colors of the rainbow. Jews themselves come in all colors, even black. I met with Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Beautiful black Jews.

So, yes, I came here today to tell you that the people who suffer most from the UN anti-Israel policy are not the Israelis but all those people who the UN ignores in order to tell its big lie against Israel. We, the victims of Arab/Muslim abuse…are the biggest victims of UN Israel hatred. Look at the situation of the Copts in Egypt, the Christians in Iraq, and Nigeria, and Iran, the Hindus and Bahais who suffer from Islamic oppression. The Sikhs.… We are ignored, we are abandoned. So that the big lie against the Jews can go forward.

In 2005, I visited one of the refugee camps in South Sudan. I met a twelve year old girl who told me about her dream. In a dream she wanted to go to school to become a doctor. And then, she wanted to visit Israel. I was shocked. How could this refugee girl who spent most of her life in the North know about Israel? When I asked why she wanted to visit Israel, she said: “This is our people.” I was never able to find an answer to my question.

On [July] 9 of 2011 South Sudan became an independent state. For South Sudanese, that means continuation of oppression, brutalization, demonization, Islamization, Arabization and enslavement. In a similar manner, the Arabs continue denying Jews their right for sovereignty in their homeland and the Durban III conference continues denying Israel’s legitimacy.

As a friend of Israel, I bring you the news that my President, the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, publicly stated that the South Sudan embassy in Israel will be built not in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people. I also want to assure you that my own new nation, and all of its peoples, will oppose racist forums like the Durban III. We will oppose it by simply telling the truth. Our truth.

My Jewish friends taught me something I now want to say with you. AM YISROEL CHAI! The people of Israel lives! Thank you.

Philip Kennicott

Washington Post, February 16, 2012

In the late 1980s, when organizers of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum were searching for Nazi-era artifacts, they sought to tell a story that was industrial in its magnitude and horrifying in its detail. The results, a widely acclaimed permanent exhibition that broke new ground in museum design, may be in jeopardy as the museum deals with demands to return one of its most powerful and haunting objects.

Little known outside the Holocaust Museum is that many of the objects borrowed from Poland almost a quarter-century ago were on a 20-year loan, and over the past few years, those loans have expired. In some cases, the museum has returned objects, renegotiated loans or exchanged existing materials, such as shoes, suitcases and prayer shawls, for equivalent pieces.

[However], several members of the team that built the exhibition, one of the most visited in Washington, are concerned that the drab wooden barracks from Auschwitz that gives visitors a chilling sense of the daily brutality of life under the Nazis, may have to be returned to Poland, leaving a prominent hole in what they call the exhibition’s basic narrative. Sara Bloomfield, the museum’s director…acknowledged that negotiations are underway to keep the barracks on the museum’s third floor. “It is our priority to keep the barracks in the exhibition,” Bloomfield said. “We are in negotiations with our Polish partners about how to do that.…”

Martin Smith, a documentary filmmaker who helped craft the exhibition’s focus on narrative (at the time, an important innovation in U.S. museum design), is more blunt. If the museum loses important pieces such as the barracks, “the whole veracity of the place will go,” he said. “The physicality of those objects speaks volumes.…”

Witold Dzielski, first secretary of the Polish Embassy, said he sympathizes with the museum’s desire to keep the barracks. “All the other issues are being solved pretty easily,” he said of the smaller objects that have been returned or exchanged. “But in the case of the barracks, it is a particularly difficult situation. There was an agreement, and according to Polish law, there is no way that the barracks cannot be returned.”

The expiration of the loan agreements puts the museum and Polish organizations that contributed to it in a difficult position. Few subjects are more emotionally fraught than the Holocaust; and the relationship between Jewish survivors and Poland, where most of the German death camps were located, has been particularly difficult. The enormity of Nazi violations of international law and human rights have led to decades of ongoing conflict over the ownership of looted art and property, and the relative status of different groups that suffered in the war. But the loan agreement case also raises emotional concerns about the museum’s design, so celebrated since its opening in 1993 that changes to it are seen as potentially sacrilegious.

Suitcases that bore the names of Holocaust victims, for example, have been returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau and replaced with others that don’t bear clearly identifiable names of particular victims. Jacek Nowakowski, the museum’s senior curator for research and acquisitions, says the exchange was probably prompted by the possibility that items bearing specific names could be subject to legal disputes if claimed by surviving family members.…

A 2005 legal case in France hinged on that issue: The descendent of a Holocaust victim discovered his father’s name on a suitcase lent by the Auschwitz museum to an exhibition in Paris. He asked for its return, and when Polish authorities refused, he filed suit to keep the object in France. Polish officials may be legitimately concerned that Polish cultural patrimony is potentially in jeopardy.…

Members of the original exhibition team think the Holocaust Museum should fight harder to maintain the exhibition as is. “I can’t figure out why the museum has agreed to go along supinely,” [Martin] Smith said, adding, “I don’t know why the Poles are doing this.…”

Off the record, some observers worry that this is another chapter in Poland’s complicated relationship to the Holocaust, which includes efforts to play down knowledge of and complicity in the Nazi atrocities and ham-handed attempts to lay claim to the Holocaust as a crime perpetrated primarily against Poles rather than Jews. The current resort to intransigent legalism thus echoes earlier cultural tics, such as the creation of a Carmelite convent that stood near Auschwitz from 1984 to 1993 and was widely seen as an appropriation of Jewish sacred ground.…

The case of the barracks remains emotional. Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and prominent author, issued a statement encouraging its retention. “I fervently hope that the Polish government and the Museum will find a way for the barracks to remain on view,” he wrote. “The museum is of extraordinary importance as it is. There are few institutions in the world that have done for remembrance as well and as much as this museum.”

Daniel Gordis

Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2012

We Jews permit ourselves degrees of intolerance towards each other that we would never exhibit toward others outside our community. The settings are numerous—theology, Halacha, denominations, politics and more. But nowhere are the vehemence and the inability to actually listen to those with whom we disagree more pronounced than with regard to the State of Israel.

The great irony of our age is that arguments about how to safeguard the Jewish state are a significant part of what now threatens to destroy any semblance of unity among the Jewish people. It is therefore helpful to have periodic reminders of just how much is at stake in the survival and flourishing of this state.

This week affords just that opportunity, for we are just days shy of the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the SS Struma. Few people today remember the Struma or its story; the young among us cannot even imagine the Jewish existential condition that it reflected, a condition that [Israel] has, thankfully, completely eradicated.

The story begins in 1941, when it was clear to many Eastern European Jews that they were destined for a horrific end. In Romania, several Zionist organizations, Betar among them, commissioned a Bulgarian ship to transport almost 800 Jewish passengers to Palestine—the Struma.…

However, the Struma was a disaster waiting to happen. The ship was barely more than a floating tub, 61 meters in length and six meters wide, which had been built in 1830 for shipping cargo; it had subsequently been used to transport cattle. It was powered by a motor that had apparently been salvaged from the bottom of the Danube River. The immigrants aboard had, according to some accounts, but a single bathroom. Their only sources of comfort were the knowledge that they were finally succeeding in fleeing a burning Europe, and that the whole trip to Istanbul, the first leg of their journey, would take merely 14 hours.

The Struma set sail on December 12, 1941, but the engine gave out almost immediately. The tugboat that had towed them out of the harbor eventually sent its navigator and engineer on board, but they would only fix the engine for a large sum of money. The passengers, however, had given all their money to the Romanian customs officials. So they parted with their gold wedding bands in return for the repairs.

Four interminable days later, the boat limped into the Istanbul harbor, where it would remain for months.

Turkey refused to allow the passengers to disembark.… Nor did Britain want them to make their way to Palestine; the British were anxious to assure an increasingly restless and sometimes violent Arab resistance that limits on Jewish immigration would be enforced.

On February 12, almost two months after the boat had left Romania, the British finally acquiesced and granted Palestinian visas to the children on board. But His Majesty’s government refused to send a ship to collect them, and Turkey refused to grant them overland passage. The children thus remained on board. With negotiations between Turkey and Britain at a standstill, Turkish officials towed the disabled boat up the Bosporus Strait toward the Black Sea.

Passengers hung signs over the side that said “Save Us” in both English and Hebrew. The signs were plainly visible to people on the shores of the Bosporus, but no one, of course, did anything to help them.

When the hapless Struma reached the Black Sea, the Turks abandoned the ship, leaving it to drift. The next morning, on February 24, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the Struma, which exploded and sank. Of the 769 people on board, only one survived, by holding on to wreckage for more than 24 hours. His name was David Stoliar, and he was imprisoned in Turkey for several weeks, then admitted to Palestine. Stoliar served in the British Army during the war, and then in the IDF during the War of Independence; he later moved to Oregon.

There is much we do not know about the Struma catastrophe. Why did the Soviets sink the boat? Did they mistake it for something else? Did the British actually encourage their Soviet allies to sink the ship in order to “solve” the problem without putting pressure on Palestinian immigration? Some people believe so, but we will probably never know with certainty.

The incident, now mostly forgotten, had all the iconic elements of the Shoah. Human beings transported with equipment once used for cattle. Subhuman and unlivable conditions. Helpless Jews, whom no one wanted, with nowhere in the world to go. And finally, of course, mass death, with no graves to mark the fact that these innocent people had even existed, and had died for the simple reason that they were Jews.

Perhaps the most important element of the story to remember is to be found in a British governmental communication from 1941, referring to the Jews who were desperate to escape Europe and who, the British rightly understood, would try to make their way to Palestine despite British objections. “We should have some alternative scheme in hand for disposing of these surplus Jews, who having escaped from persecution in Europe, are going to be kept in detention camps in British colonies,” the communication stated matter-of-factly.

“Surplus Jews”: The phrase is used with no hint of embarrassment, no expression of responsibility. “Surplus Jews,” as in human beings that are, for now, a commodity—until they become literally worthless. “Surplus,” as in not needed, as in a problem that needs to be disposed of.

No one uses this phrase anymore. Not the British, nor the Turks. Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, nor Mahmoud Abbas. People across the globe still have their beef with us; some are justified, most are not. But whatever one might say about the State of Israel, one thing is clear—the Struma incident simply could not happen today.

It is simply impossible for today’s Jews to find themselves in a world in which no one wants them or will have them. That, perhaps most fundamentally, is the dimension of Jewish life that Israel has changed, hopefully forever. Jews may be all sorts of things, but we are no longer “surplus.”

It is worth remembering now just how much has changed in the past 70 years. And as we battle over how Judaism should be manifested in [Israel], what its borders should be and how we can best protect it, the memory of the Struma ought to serve as a chilling reminder of what we will lose if the stridency of our debate rips our people—and then our state—asunder.