A PROTEST AGAINST GENOCIDE: BIAFRA RALLY
STATEMENT BY RABBI MARC H. TANEN3AUM, NATIONAL DIRECTOR OF INTERRELIGIOUS
AFFAIRS, AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE; CHAIRMAN OF THE INTERRELIGIOUS
LIASION COMMITTEE OF THE AMERICAN JEWISH EMERGENCY EFFORT
FOR BIAFRAN RELIEF, AND PRESIDENT OF THE INTERRELIGIOUS FOUNDATION
FOR COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION
Today is the Jewish Sabbath. Traditionally the Sabbath is an
oasis in time for retreat from the turmoil of the world, for calm
reflection, meditation, and study. By superficial standards, a Jew,
and certainly a rabbi, should not be taking part in a public meeting
such as this on the Sabbath Day. However, from the deepest
perspectives of the humanism of the Jewish faith and the historic
experience of the Jewish people, I can do no other but lend my voice
and my presence on this Sabbath in sorrowful and bitter protest
against the bestiality that is taking place against innocent men,
women and children, victims of the civil war in Nigeria.
Rabbinic tradition affirms (Ketubah 19a), "There is nothing -
no religious law - that must not yield to the duty of saving life."
And the Sabbath itself must be set aside to save a life (Ketubah 5a)
... whether the person in need is a Jew or a Gentile (Ibid. 15b).
We are here to try to save the lives not of a single person,
but of tens of thousands of persons, before it is too late. The
world - nations, governments, whole peoples — have created an
artificial Sabbath about themselves, retreating to an indecent
calm, an obscene indifference to the plight of millions who are
being massacred and dying from hunger. We are here to cry out to
the world to set aside this Sabbath calm and end the morbid immoral
silence under whose cloak wholesale destruction of lives is taking
On June 9, 1942, the village of Lidice was wiped off the face
of the earth, the entire male population of the village was
massacred. The women and children were carried off to be shot,
gassed, or to die from ill-treatment. Four of the Lidice women who
were about to give birth were taken to a maternity hospital in
Prague where their newly born infants were murdered. The Nazi
security police then burned down the village, dynamited the ruins,
and leveled it off.
Lidice is the most widely known example of Nazi savagery and
one of the longest remembered acts of barbarism in the civilized
In the second half of the 20th century, Biafra is on its way
to becoming the Lidice of mankind.
Yesterday morning, I received a letter from a priest in Port
Harcourt, Rev. Fintan Kilbride, who described an hour-long bombing
of the town of Ihiala. "The first stick of bombs was dropped
immediately behind the Holy Ghost Seminary where Rev. J. McNulty
was feeding 300 starving children in the clinic. The first bomb
dropped only a short distance away and decapitated one of the
mission workers. The second which fell a little further away,
killed 12 people and injured 115 in front of their eyes. The
Russian Mig, piloted presumably by an Egyptian pilot, then circled
for a while before coming in for the kill again, this time on the
village market place which was crowded with shoppers. Twelve were
killed and 35 injured. The next target was the Holy Rosary
Hospital. It was struck three times before it was completely
destroyed. It was absolute carnage." --The letter concludes, :'In
the name of humanity something must be done to stop this savage
Less than 25 years ago the Jewish People suffered a catastrophe
in the ruthless murder of six million men, women and children,
the import of which has permanently impaired our image of God,
man and the moral order. The most traumatic effect of all was the
feeling of abandonment, the agony of being surrounded by an ocean
Out of that holocaust we, the Jewish People, have salvaged
one permanent lesson. There must never again be silence in the
face of atrocities and human suffering.
"Thou shalt not stand by idly the blood of thy brother,"
is the eleventh commandment of the Jewish People.
If we remain silent now in the face of what amounts to in fact
another attempted genocide, we will have given Hitler and Nazi
Germany their final victory.
What are we to do? There are two things we can and must do:
First, we must help stop the slaughter.
Second, we must help put an end to the cruel starvation.
Unless a cease-fire or truce is brought about, and the massacre
of innocents ends, all the humanitarian aid we send will in a short
time be poured into a cemetery called Biafra. I urge therefore that
our next rally take place not again before the United Nations, which
is apparently and tragically paralyzed from doing anything effective
to end the killing, but that we march on Washington, and in particular
on the State Department.
Our government has been engaged in a diplomatic bird dance,
feigning an impotence which is a lie. The culprits in the Nigerian
war effort are Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and Egypt, without
whose heavy military support and pilots this war could not rage on
for long. We need to march on the State Department and insist on
public answers to these questions:
Why is our government not protesting against Great Britain's
imperialist role in Nigeria? Is Britain, our great ally, going to
be allowedto continue to play the role of perfidious Albion in
bartering human lives for Biafran Oil?
Why does not our government make it clear to the Soviet Union
that we will not tolerate her continued feeding into Nigeria the
Migs and Ilyushin bombers, flown by Egyptian pilots, to exterminate
innocent peoples? Our president put the Soviet Union on public
notice when the Red armies marched into Czechoslovakia? Is the
Biafran tragedy any less demanding of our public outrage?
And finally we must ask what is the role of Ambassador Joseph
Palmer, the head of the African desk in the State Department, in
our strange neutrality in the face of genocide? Why is he dragging
his feet in response to pleas for American airlifts of food and
medicine to Biafra? Is the State Department repeating the same
cynical pattern of the 1940's of turning a deaf ear to cries to
help save human lives when it has the clear capacity to do
infinitely more than it is doing?
While we must march on Washington and turn the light of world
public opinion on the State Department and those responsible for
its ignominious policy of neutrality, we must not relax for a
moment our drives to raise monies to provide food, drugs and
I wish to use this occasion to announce that the entire Jewish
community in the United States has organized an unprecedented
American Jewish Emergency Effort for Biafran Relief, following the
great leadership given by the Catholic Relief Services and Church
World Service, who have done more than any government or interRabbi
national relief bodies to bring succor and relief to the suffering
people of Nigeria. We have just raised $32,000 for Biafran
relief, and two days ago have committed checks to Catholic Relief
Services and to Church World Service and UNICEF which will make
possible the shipment of twenty flights of food amounting to 200
tons and one flight of medicines from Portugal to Biafra.
In the days and weeks ahead we will continue to work with you,
for the sake of the Biafran People, but also for the sake of our
own sanity and our belief in the worth of man.