Skating past China’s Uighur genocide -opinion

How can it be that Israelis will soon ski or skate for entertainment purposes in the very same country where a genocide is ongoing? 

 DEMONSTRATORS FROM China’s Uighur Muslim ethnic group protest outside a Turkish Olympic Committee building in Istanbul last week, calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. (photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)
DEMONSTRATORS FROM China’s Uighur Muslim ethnic group protest outside a Turkish Olympic Committee building in Istanbul last week, calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
(photo credit: UMIT BEKTAS/REUTERS)

The genocide being carried out by the Chinese government against the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang is not a matter of speculation. It is a confirmed fact.

This month, the French National Assembly officially recognized China’s atrocities as genocide. Last month, an independent British tribunal declared that it was satisfied that China had carried out “a deliberate, systematic and concerted policy” to bring about “long-term reduction of Uighur and other ethnic minority populations.” And last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed on behalf of the US government that China is indeed committing genocide.

Genocide is any deliberate attempt to destroy a particular population or group by murder, by forced conversion, or by suppression of reproduction, and is almost always accompanied by a range of horrors.

Since 2017, the Chinese authorities have imprisoned more than 1 million Uighurs in internment camps in the largest detention of any minority since World War II. Beijing has separated hundreds of thousands of children from their parents, destroyed or damaged thousands of mosques, and engaged in torture. There are widespread reports of forced labor, suppression of Uighur religious practices, political indoctrination, forced sterilizations and forced abortions.

There is no longer any uncertainty. This is genocide. Happening right now. Unlike the antisemitic, fabricated charge of genocide that is directed against Israel, the treatment of the Uighurs is the real thing.

A Jewish man who identified himself as Andrew protests the oppression of China's Uighurs outside the Chinese Embassy in London, Jan. 5, 2020.  (credit: GETTY IMAGES)A Jewish man who identified himself as Andrew protests the oppression of China's Uighurs outside the Chinese Embassy in London, Jan. 5, 2020. (credit: GETTY IMAGES)

Lest there be any doubt as to the gravity of what is occurring, the 1948 Convention on the Crime of Genocide (to which Israel is a signatory) obligates states to do all in their power to prevent genocide, the “pinnacle of human criminality.” In the wake of the Holocaust, the world recognized that genocide had to be wiped away, and that all civilized nations had to ensure that this ultimate human transgression would not be countenanced.

We Jews stated it even more succinctly: “Never again.” Never again will the people who were turned to smoke at Auschwitz allow anything similar to happen anywhere. Not on our watch. We built hundreds of Holocaust museums and memorials to teach the history of the worst genocide imaginable so that nobody would ever contemplate trying anything like it.

There are some Jews who maintain that “never again” was only intended to apply to the Jewish people. The implication of this line of thinking is that it is of little concern to Jews if non-Jews are subject to genocide. This attitude is as un-Jewish as it is shocking. 

Ever since Abraham intervened with God in an attempt to save non-Jews who were not his kin, it has been the Jewish way to defend the innocent, no matter what their background. In fact, coming to the defense of those who are not part of one’s own group was one of the revolutionary insights of the Torah.

Jews, it follows logically, have a special duty to be vigilant guards against genocide, primed and ready to make sure that “never again” has real substance.

WHAT THEN has been the response of the Israeli government to the genocide of the Uighurs? Not only has Jerusalem been reluctant to sign on to international statements of “concern” about China’s horrendous transgressions, but Israel is about to dispatch a team to the Beijing Winter Olympics.

This Israeli attempt not to offend the Chinese is more than disappointing. The leadership of the world’s only Jewish state, together with Jewish leaders everywhere, should be sounding the alarm that a genocide is underway in China, and should be demanding that the world live up to its anti-genocide obligations.

The Knesset should be weighing in, rabbis should be speaking up, and Israel should be at the forefront of a boycott of the upcoming Olympic Games. How can it be that Israelis will soon ski or skate for entertainment purposes in the very same country where a genocide is ongoing? 

There are those who say that boycotting the games has no more than a “symbolic” impact and will achieve nothing of substance. This is a mistake. A boycott by any number of countries would plainly upset the Chinese and would shine a spotlight on their crimes. It would declare unequivocally that we will not skate idly by while “inconvenient” humans are being horrendously mistreated.

It is time for Israel to lead the struggle against the genocide of the Uighurs. Could such fortitude lead to some adverse consequences for Israel? Possibly. But isn’t intervening to prevent genocide the right thing to do – and the Jewish thing to do – even if there is a tangible downside?

Eighteen months ago, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, wrote this about the reports coming out of China: “That people in the 21st century are being murdered, terrorized, victimized, intimidated and robbed of their liberties because of the way they worship God is a moral outrage, a political scandal and a desecration of faith itself.”

Rabbi Sacks was right. And when the history of the Uighur genocide comes to be written, none of us will be able to say that we had no idea what was happening. Taking a firm stand against the Chinese genocide is the correct Jewish response.

The writer, a rabbi, is the foundation scholar at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and divides his time between Pittsburgh and Jerusalem.