Opinion: Syrians need us

It’s time for us to act for Syria.

It’s been one year since the start of the Syrian revolution, and the organized Jewish community is still sitting on its collective thumbs, acting as if the turmoil is not its issue, and in any case, we can do nothing.

It is, and we can.

The criminal enterprise called the Bashar al-Assad regime has murdered more than 10,000 civilians since the Arab Spring crossed
the border into Syria. Assad, the London-trained ophthalmologist whom the West, and his own countrymen, once looked upon as the future of a new, free Syria, has proved himself the myopic heir to his father’s evil. He has the same story arc as Michael Corleone, with none of the charisma. 

Assad’s fixation on retaining power at all costs has offered the people of Syria no choice but to resist. His own choices are narrowing to whether he wants to die at the hands of a mob, à la Muammar Gadhafi, or in custody, à la Hosni Mubarak. Whichever way he goes, his actions now guarantee that there will be not a single tear left in Syria to shed for him. Watch the images of 13-year-old boys tortured by Assad’s forces, of Syrian neighborhoods flattened by his artillery, of Syrian women raped by his soldiers: Assad will go down as one of the great cowards and child-murderers of our time. His father, at least, would be proud.  

I understand there are ample differences between Syria and the other countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Syria’s army is even more in the regime’s camp. The opposition is even more dysfunctional and divided. Iran’s influence is greater. The Russians, whose legacy of support for Syria goes back to the Cold War, are even more invested in the status quo. As one Syrian expert told me, “Libya implodes; Syria explodes.” There is no reason to be Pollyannaish about the future: Assad has dug in, there is no good military option, and the best hope is to continue to use sanctions and financial pressures on the regime’s kleptocrats in the hopes of prying their grip off the nation’s throat.

But the stakes for the things American Jews care about are in some ways even higher. Here is a country smack on Israel’s northern border, which shares precious water resources with Israel. A country that has fought several wars against Israel, and played a key role in instigating one of them — the Six-Day War. A country that is ideologically and militarily tied to Iran, which has supported it with armaments and populated it with Hezbollah and Hamas. A country that has meddled in Lebanon, to Israel’s — and Lebanon’s — detriment.

A government in Syria that cared more about its own people and less about demonizing, blaming and attacking Israel would be a very good thing.

But no less important, the ideals that motivate the naked revolution are dear. Freedom from oppression. Hope for a better future. The development of the human potential of the Syrian people. 

Syria might seem small compared to what’s happening in Egypt and Iran. But people who know far better than I consider the revolution a breakthrough for the region. That’s why Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, told a group in Los Angeles earlier this month that Israel’s real focus now should be Syria and Lebanon:

“There is a way of supporting opposition and bringing it into Western alliance,” he said.

And Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, took to YouTube last week to deliver a message to the Syrian people in Arabic:

“As a human being, as an Israeli, as a member of the Israeli parliament,” Dichter said, “it is painful to see such heinous crimes against civilians in Syria. I am wondering why the world keeps silent.”

When the former heads of Israel’s external and internal security services both agree that Syria should be a priority, maybe it should be.

This week I called a friend with deep roots in Syria. I asked my friend what we, as Americans, as Jews, could do to express our support. The answer is: a concert to raise funds for Syrian refugees.

There are 130,000 Syrian refugees living in difficult conditions in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. A concert that raises money to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the primary relief organization for Syrian refugees, would provide aid to people who have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime, and would be a symbol to the Syrians who remain inside their country that we are on their side. 

I asked my Syrian friend if his countrymen would look askance at the involvement of Jews and Israelis in organizing a benefit concert for them. Would they assume ulterior motives? 

“How could anyone criticize you for doing something good like that?” said my friend — who, you may have guessed by now, prefers to remain anonymous out of fear of the regime. “You are certainly doing a lot more than many people. Just do it. Stick to what matters, and do what’s right.”

There have been concerts for Syria in Chicago, London and even talk of one in Israel: Who in Los Angeles will step up?

Follow Rob Eshman on Twitter at