United, We Demand Justice for the Rohingya People

In a time marked by divisiveness and disagreement in our country and within the American Jewish community, something truly momentous happened earlier this month. A diverse and influential group of Jewish organizations and leaders—spanning nearly every part of the American Jewish community—came together to make a bold statement in a united voice: Stop the massacre of the Rohingya people.

I was so proud when I read Haaretz describe our united call as “a rare signal of unity in the Jewish community.”

We at AJWS—along with 24 national organizations, 48 local organizations and 248 rabbis and communal leaders—raised our collective voices to demand justice for the Rohingya people. Together, we delivered a joint Jewish organizational letter to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to press for action on the Burma Human Rights Freedom Act—which calls for sanctions, aid and other swift and firm U.S. response to the horrific atrocities taking place as the world looks on.

Crisis in Burma

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I am deeply moved by this united action. In no small feat, it represents the first major action of a united Jewish campaign for the Rohingya people, representing American Jews across the spectrum—including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist; secular and religious; and civil rights activists, feminists and others committed to justice. Despite the different ways we express being Jewish in the world, we all agree that there is no place in our world for murder, rape and burning to destroy a people. And there is no place for forcing more than 687,000 refugees to flee on foot for days to safety. There is no room for these unspeakable atrocities against any people, anywhere.

Now it is time for us to move forward, together. Now is the time for a powerful, public, unified Jewish response that demonstrates to our government and global leaders alike that for a diverse array of American Jews, “never again” really means never again. And in so doing, we are demonstrating to ourselves that we can agree and act together, when we root our actions in the Jewish belief that all people were made b’tselem Elohim—with infinite dignity and worthy of respect.

Together, we will not tolerate these crimes against the Rohingya people. And we are ready to make our voices heard loud and clear across our communities and in the halls of power.

Click here to read our letter calling the Senate to take action.

Robert Bank
Robert Bank is President and CEO of American Jewish World Service, the leading Jewish organization working to promote human rights in the developing world. Robert has spent his career championing human rights as an attorney, activist and leader. He joined AJWS as Executive Vice President in 2009 and previously served in New York’s municipal government and in the leadership of GMHC—one of the world’s leading organizations combating HIV/AIDS. Robert has been honored with GMHC’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Partners in Justice Award from AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. He is also an adviser to The Conversation: Jewish in America and is a board member of Peripheral Vision International. Robert’s passion for human rights was shaped growing up in a Jewish family in South Africa, which was engaged in the struggle to end apartheid.