By Andrea Barron
In April 2019, Omar al-Bashir, the long-time dictator of Sudan and chief architect of the Darfur genocide, was ousted by popular protests. He was replaced by a transitional military-civilian council that was supposed to govern the country for three years and prepare it for elections.
Since the council was established, Israel has sided with the military leaders and has had nothing to do with civilian leaders or the pro-democracy activists who launched the 2019 Sudanese revolution.
In February 2020, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, leader of the transitional government. Ten months later, Sudan agreed to normalize relations with Israel after the United States agreed to remove Sudan from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. In early October 2021, a Sudanese delegation led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemeti, secretly visited Israel. Hemeti is second-in-command of the transitional government.
On Oct. 25, 2021, Burhan carried out a coup and removed the transitional civilian leadership. The coup was condemned by the United States, which suspended $700 million in aid from Sudan, and by our European allies. Four countries refused to condemn the coup — Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Under intense pressure from the United States, on Nov. 20 Burhan agreed to reinstate the transitional civilian leaders to maintain the façade of a joint military-civilian government. But the Sudanese people will not be fooled again — they are out in the streets demanding an end to military rule and a full civilian government.
This is the time for Israel and American Jews to choose: Support the brutal military that has killed hundreds of Sudanese people and supported the Darfur genocide, or side with the Sudanese who want an end to military rule.
Who are these men running the Sudanese military? Hameti’s Rapid Support Forces, a notorious paramilitary organization, was behind the June 3, 2019, massacre of more than 100 young people who were peacefully protesting outside military headquarters after al-Bashir was removed. Hameti and the military leaders wanted to show while al-Bashir might be gone, they were still there, and they would control the country regardless of any kind of “power-sharing” with civilians.
Burhan and Hameti directed the genocide against Black, non-Arabs in Sudan’s Darfur region between 2003 and 2008. They recruited the infamous Janjaweed militia, which destroyed villages, massacred civilians and systematically raped women and girls. At least 300,000 Darfuris were killed and as many as 2.7 million displaced.
American Jews should be particularly disturbed about Israel’s support for the Darfur genocidaires now running Sudan’s transitional government. The Jewish community, led by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, launched the Save Darfur movement in 2004 and created a coalition of 160 faith-based organizations to stop the genocide. Jews connected the genocide in Darfur to the Holocaust and all over the country you could see “Save Darfur” signs displayed outside synagogues.
And who are the pro-democracy activists calling for a civilian government? They include organizations like the Sudanese Professionals Association — doctors, engineers and lawyers — women’s rights activists and students. While the pro-democracy forces have not been as enthusiastic as the military about normalizing relations with Israel, it is not true that they oppose normalization — their voices just need to be heard in English.
One of the most prominent pro-normalization Sudanese secular democrats is Omar Yousif Al-Dagir. He heads the center-left Sudanese Congress Party, a major political party. In October 2020, his party issued a statement saying: “We welcome the beginning of a conversation with Israel and the end of the state of hostility with it. … normalization with Israel must be based … on the right (of the Palestinian people) to establish their independent state based on the two-state proposal.”
Hagir ElSheikh is a torture survivor from Sudan, a nurse, businesswoman and a leader in the pro-democracy Sudanese-American community now living in Pennsylvania. She communicates daily with Sudanese protesting on the ground today in Khartoum, and says most of them think just like Al-Dagir about normalization with Israel.
“The problem now is that Israel is on the wrong side,” she says. “It is siding with Burhan and Hameti, whose hands are filled with blood, the blood of the Sudanese people. If Israel declares that it supports civilian rule, not the military, it will be our ally. Israel and Sudan could have a mutually beneficial relationship, one more stable than if Israel continues supporting the hated military that brutalizes the Sudanese people.”
If Israel does decide to support the pro-democracy movement, it could even have its first “warm peace” with an Arab country. The Sudanese people will remember the choice it makes during this critical time in their fight for freedom.
Andrea Barron, from Camp Springs, Md., works with torture survivors from African countries including Sudan, with leaders of the Sudanese American Public Affairs Association, and with supporters of the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Forces of Freedom and Change coalition in Sudan.