US Jewish leaders urge Olympic boycott

Appeal aimed to protest China's human rights record, assistance to Iran, Syria and Hamas.

beijing olympics 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
beijing olympics 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, US Jewish leaders from across the spectrum are urging Jews to boycott the summer Olympics in Beijing to protest China's human rights record and its assistance to Iran, Syria and Hamas. A total of 185 rabbis and Jewish leaders so far have signed on to the appeal, which claims that China, like Germany in 1936, is using the Olympics to deflect attention from its record. "We are deeply troubled by China's support for the genocidal government of Sudan; its mistreatment of the people of Tibet; its denial of basic rights to its own citizens; and its provision of missiles to Iran and Syria, and friendship for Hamas," the text of a joint statement read. "Having endured the bitter experience of abandonment by our presumed allies during the Holocaust, we feel a particular obligation to speak out against injustice and persecution today." Spearheading the project is Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, a former chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, head of New York's Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue and the Ramaz School. It is based partially on research by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. The appeal seizes on the creation of a kosher kitchen at the Olympics village to attract Jewish tourists as part of a larger strategy to deflect attention from China's human rights record. "Jews should not be party to the whitewashing of such a regime," the statement read. Several representatives of Judaism's major denominations and institutions are signatories, including Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Neil Goldstein and Richard Gordon of the American Jewish Congress; and Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis. Lookstein said the call for a boycott is limited to the Olympics and is not intended toward all dealings with China. "I don't think there is anything wrong with people doing business with China, but the Olympics is not business, it is fun and pleasure," Lookstein said. "They should not be able to be the center for the world's most famous sporting event, and Jews should be sensitive to that. "I don't think people should spend their discretionary time or funds in support of an activity which serves to give legitimacy to a government which is doing some terrible things," added Lookstein. "Are they analogous to the Nazis? No. But if they told Sudanese to stop genocide in Darfur, it would stop in a dime," he said. "Instead they are standing by while innocent blood is being shed." Organizers of the petition say there is a lesson to be learned from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Shortly after the Berlin games, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told American Jewish leaders that he had been informed by visitors to Germany "that the synagogues were crowded and apparently there is nothing very wrong in the situation [of Germany's Jews] at present." Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman Institute, said totalitarian regimes have a record of using international events to whitewhash human rights abuses. "Sadly, even presidents get taken in by propaganda," he said. "One hopes President Bush won't similarly fall for efforts by the Chinese government to soft-pedal their abuses today."