British Jews are not silent. No one should be.

[Ed. note: This is an expanded version of an editorial that first appeared in the Intermountain Jewish News]

Mike Pompeo, the former Secretary of State, on his last day in office, declared China’s persecution of the Muslim Uighurs a genocide.

Joe Biden, president of the US, did not reverse the declaration.

Now what?

The information leaking out of China follows the pattern of obfuscation, denial and euphemism that has characterized initial information about genocides of the past century. We have learned to see through terms like “Final solution” and “Deportation.” China’s term is Stalin’s favorite, “re-education.”

More Chinese terminology is straight out of Stalin: Uighurs forced laborers are “happy because they have the opportunity to earn a living.” Female Uighurs, whom the Chinese forcibly sterilized, are “celebrating their liberation.”

Like the Chinese euphemisms, the conditions of the Uighurs are intentionally veiled by China. As best as we can tell, China is intent on destroying the Uighurs as a Muslim religious group via murder, rape, forced sterilization, forced labor, torture and family separation.

Public outcry — if sustained — can make a difference.

Public outcry — if sustained — is where the world can come in.

Public outcry — if sustained — is where the American Jewish community must come in.

Public outcry —if sustained — is the only way not to repeat the Nazi-era indifference that played a major and painful role in the deaths of millions of Jews.

An occasional press release cannot make a difference.

When it comes to the American Jewish community, we are aware of, at best, an occasional objection to one of the most heinous, governmental persecutions in the world today.

We, as a genocided people, have a special obligation to make sure it never happens again.

Yet, it is.

Not, of course, that it is only non-governmental organizations that need to make a difference. How will the Biden administration follow up on its acceptance of the Pompeo declaration? On Joe Biden’s first telephone call with Xi Jinping, the leader of China, Biden didn’t bring up the topic. Not a good sign.

George Shultz, with respect to the Soviet persecution of Soviet Jews in the 1980s, brought up the topic again and again and again — every single time he met with Soviet leaders. He annoyed them. He pressured them. He showed them that Soviet persecution mattered to him, mattered enough to motivate him to go beyond lip service.

The Biden administration needs to decide whether it merely wants to go on record against genocide in China, or whether it really wants to do what it takes to make China stop it.

Note: The word “genocide” can be a trap. “Genocide” is carefully defined in law. Just because an evil does not fit the legal definition of genocide does not mean that the evil may be ignored. It is an immorality of its own to get hung up on whether a given persecution meets the technical criteria of “genocide” and thereby refrain from taking action against the likes of China’s persecution of the Uighurs. The fact that insufficient information is made available by China should tilt the scales in assuming that it is committing genocide. But if not, China remains engaged in, and is covering up, an evil campaign against a nation of one million or more people.

Chinese policies against Uighurs are so extreme that Uighurs outside China cannot even substantiate whether their relatives inside China are alive or dead.

It is time for the expression of American Jewish outrage.

British Jews have launched a public outcry.

So should we.

“Thou shall not kill” (Exodus 20:12) ought to suffice as reason enough to protest these atrocities. Whether the prohibition’s application to non-Jews is Biblical or Rabbinic in nature is not the burning question. Either way, halakhic Judaism condemns all murder of innocents.

Maimonides, for one, indicates that saving a non-Jew’s life is equal to saving a Jew’s. When codifying that saving a life is analogous to saving the entire world (Hilkhot Sanhedrin 12:3), he changes the language of the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) from “one Jew” to “one person.” He invokes mipnei darkhei shalom (social civility) as the basis on which Jews are enjoined to visit non-Jews who are ill and provide for non-Jews who are impoverished. It is not a leap to suggest Maimonides would advocate for protests of genocide against non-Jews as well.

Widespread British Jewish outrage against China’s outrages against the Uighurs is reported in this week’s IJN. Surely, Jewish morality is not subject to division by an ocean. Surely, the offenses in China are not subject to geographical relativism.

Evidence of the Chinese destruction of the Uighur nation is provided by China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in an ironic, telling way.

Jiechi speaks of foreign attempts to pressure China to change its genocidal policy against the Uighurs exactly as perpetrators of earlier genocides have spoken. Listening to Jiechi, one hears, in tone and content, the voice of the most despicable specimens of humanity going all the way back to the Ottoman Empire’s Taalat Pasha, one of the prosecutors of the Armenian genocide. Jiechi, warned foreign nations against China’s policy regarding Hong Kong and the Uighurs: “They constitute a red line which must not be crossed.”

For Jiechi, there is nothing to be discussed, disclosed or negotiated. The only option for the Biden administration is to stand up against this in word and deed. Those who engage in “final solutions” of their own are not given to reason.

For years, the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League shamefully denied that the Armenian genocide took place. The national Jewish objectors to Holocaust denial engaged in genocide denial. We expect these leading American Jewish organizations not to take the many years it took them to acknowledge the Armenian genocide in order to speak loudly against China’s persecution of the Uighurs.

We expect the same of the Jewish Federations of North America.

We expect the same of the Union of Reform Judaism and the Orthodox Union.

We expect the same of all major American Jewish voices, however politically divided they might otherwise be.

It is not enough to bemoan the Holocaust and the indifference to the death of six million Jews. From the point of view of historical truth, it is critical to point out the uniqueness of the Holocaust. But from the point of view of present policy against a contemporary genocide such as the one in China today, it is an immorality of its own to debate whether China’s evil rises to the Nazi level. This is a diversion. This is a perversion of Holocaust remembrance. The persecution of an entire people is a violation of every Jewish and humane standard of morality, requiring vocal objection, blinding sunlight, and sustained interference by all people and governments of conscience.

The early 1970s saw Cambodia.

1988 saw the Iraqi Kurds.

1994 saw Rwanda.

2004 saw Darfur.

Years in between saw Bosnians and Yazidis and others.

Do we want to be known as the years of the Uighurs?

As if this were not enough, no one has yet labeled Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya as a genocide. Do not fall into the genocide trap. Whatever it is labeled, mass persecution, wherever and by whomever, requires repeated pressure, repeated expression of abhorrence, repeated objection, repeated attention — and repeated counteraction.

Silence is sin.

The Intermountain Jewish News (IJN) is the 4th oldest Jewish weekly newspaper in America, serving the Rocky Mountain region, and its work regularly receives many Rockower awards for excellence in Jewish journalism. Its editor and publisher, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, is author of numerous books and sefarim, two of which have recently been reprinted—The Fire Within & Between Berlin and Slobodka.

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15 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    The Red Chinese government has bought and paid for the services of many US politicians. Likewise, many US corporations have received Chinese largesse and also benefit directly or indirectly from Uighur slave labor.
    See this recent summary:
    We have a duty to call attention to the influential Americans who support, condone, or ignore the genocide and other forms of oppression.

    • Bob Miller says:

      From the ASPI link above:
      In all, ASPI’s research has identified 82 foreign and Chinese companies potentially directly or indirectly benefiting from the use of Uyghur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour transfer programs as recently as 2019: Abercrombie & Fitch, Acer, Adidas, Alstom, Amazon, Apple, ASUS, BAIC Motor, Bestway, BMW, Bombardier, Bosch, BYD, Calvin Klein, Candy, Carter’s, Cerruti 1881, Changan Automobile, Cisco, CRRC, Dell, Electrolux, Fila, Founder Group, GAC Group (automobiles), Gap, Geely Auto, General Motors, Google, Goertek, H&M, Haier, Hart Schaffner Marx, Hisense, Hitachi, HP, HTC, Huawei, iFlyTek, Jack & Jones, Jaguar, Japan Display Inc., L.L.Bean, Lacoste, Land Rover, Lenovo, LG, Li-Ning, Mayor, Meizu, Mercedes-Benz, MG, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Mitsumi, Nike, Nintendo, Nokia, Oculus, Oppo, Panasonic, Polo Ralph Lauren, Puma, SAIC Motor, Samsung, SGMW, Sharp, Siemens, Skechers, Sony, TDK, Tommy Hilfiger, Toshiba, Tsinghua Tongfang, Uniqlo, Victoria’s Secret, Vivo, Volkswagen, Xiaomi, Zara, Zegna, ZTE. Some brands are linked with multiple factories.

  2. DK says:

    Before Hashem gave the Torah, he went around to the nations of the world and asked them if they want it . They asked what was in it and to each nation he gave an answer that would for sure turn them off. To Esav he said “Don’t murder”. “Nope”, they said, “not interested”.
    The question is, which nation in the world does allow murder? Why in the world would they not want the Torah because of this?
    An answer we can give is that of course they are anti-murder. Everyone is. But they wanted to keep to themselves the ability to define murder. Killing unborn babies. Not murder. Killing the old. Not murder. And the same is with all these atrocities that the world commits, as you write, every decade. It’s not murder. Its better for them. They are evil. Whatever excuse they can think of will change the action from murder to something else.
    Yes, we can protest it. But this is the 70 nations and until Mashiach comes i wouldn’t expect any results.

  3. BF says:

    The editorial is claiming that as Jews, we should be, or at the very least, aspire to be, disturbed and distressed by the torture, abuse, and mass murder of the Uighurs.
    Do you dispute or agree with that claim?

    • DK says:

      Of course we are disturbed by the murder of innocents. We are 10x more sensitive than any other nation about such things, both because of our past and because we are Rachmanim bnei Rachmanim. But I believe that you misunderstood the article. Rabbi Goldberg clearly writes (and that is the title of the article) that we must make a public outcry and that “We, as a genocided people, have a special obligation to make sure it never happens again.” On that, i believe that, although we may have an obligation to speak out against it, we should not assume that these efforts will bear fruit because, as i wrote, we are dealing with a world which reserves the right to define murder instead of adhering to the Torah definition.

      • Dovid says:

        DK – well stated. While taking a public stance is warranted, statements from organizations founded on adherence to Torah and mitzvos should be vetted by talmidei chachamim prior to release; it’s way too easy to communicate something (whether explicitly or implicitly) outside the pale of our hashkafos and descend the slippery slope of “we are all in this together” and other questionable sloganeering.

      • BF says:

        I understood the article perfectly well. The reason I asked whether you agree with the underlying premise – that we should be disturbed – is that I found the logic of your position so difficult to follow that I thought that maybe you simply don’t accept the premise.

        If Rabbi Goldberg had suggested writing letters to the Chinese authorities explaining the Torah’s position to them, you would have a great point: they are not likely, to say the least, to accept that. But we’re talking about creating a public outcry, perhaps applying some form of pressure, etc. which would force them to stop doing what they’re doing. That either will or not be effective, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the Chinese failure to “adhere to the Torah definition of murder.”

  4. joel rich says:

    תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קיא עמוד א
    חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין!
    R’ A Soloveitcik and R’ A Lichtenstein (Biafra) would never “accept” the realpolitik

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    “R’ A Soloveitcik and R’ A Lichtenstein (Biafra) would never “accept” the realpolitik”

    R. Meir Soloveichik related about his grandfather in a 2012 Orthodox Forum article(“The Universalism of Particularity”):

    In the 1960s, Rabbi David Luchins, then a student of Rav Ahron Soloveichik, mentioned to Rav Mordechai Gifter that Rav Ahron, known for his interest in current events and public affairs, was at that point very concerned about the suffering in the African region of Biafra. Rav Gifter remarked in admiration, “it is not just that Rav Ahron is the only Rosh Yeshiva that speaks about Biafra, it’s that he is the only Rosh Yeshiva who ever heard of Biafra.”

    R. Ron Yitzchok Eisenman wrote about R. Aharon Lichtenstein and the “Vietnamese Boat People”:

    “I never heard him speak negative about another human being and his care and compassion for all of Hashem’s creatures was legendary. What other Rosh Yeshiva in the world got up in the middle of the Beis Medrash and announced that the Yeshiva will be collecting money to support the “Vietnamese Boat People” who were escaping Vietnam in 1979 on unsafe boats and were in desperate need of help and support? His love of Hashem motivated him; “Were these not Hashem’s children?” he asked.”(“The Short Vort’ – “Rebbe Zt”l”)

  6. Shades of Gray says:

    In the most recent Jewish Action(based on a hesped he gave that is on YU Torah), R. JJ Schacter wrote an article about lessons to be learned from R. Sacks, one of which relates to this post:

    Rabbi Sacks demonstrated that the larger world in which we live matters… He developed this obligation in a talk he delivered at the Orthodox Union’s West Coast Convention in December 1997 entitled, “Orthodoxy’s Responsibility to Perfect G-d’s World.”…We will not appear regularly on the BBC…So, what can we do to affect the world? Do we have non-Jewish neighbors? Do we talk to them? Do we model human decency for them? Do we visit our local policemen and firemen on Thanksgiving Day bearing gifts in appreciation for the work they do?…

    Caring about the outside world, colloquially known as “Tikkun Olam” might also help the image of Charedi communities which is currently in need of its own “repair”.

    Speaking of British Jews, last May, the Guardian had a photo essay, “How a Haredi community in London is coping with coronavirus – photo essay”, which included a picture of a Chasidishe person dropping off food and drink for staff in a Covid-19 ward at a hospital.

    One of the articles in last week’s Mishpacha about the Charedi community’s image problem(“Yoel Friedman: Keep Our Low Profile” ) had an interview with the director of public affairs at the UK Interlink Foundation which mentioned an example of helping people of other ethnicities:

    Two weeks after one of the worst chareidi media incidents we’ve ever experienced in the UK, we worked with others to create one of the best. Hatzola members rose to the challenge and promptly trained as vaccinators, spending Motzaei Shabbos alongside National Health Service clinicians to vaccinate hundreds of high-priority local residents in a local health center. The pictures of chassidim in their Shabbos finery coming to get their jab, and of Hatzola volunteers vaccinating members of all different ethnic backgrounds, were broadcast around the world. The event was lauded all the way from Downing Street down to the local town hall. The tide of negativity turned into something much more positive.

  7. Steven Brizel says:

    Unfortunately the organizations that are silent as to the plight of the Uighurs are either equally silent on the so called Equality Act as well and those organizations whose views or definitions of Jewish identity either are strongly supportive of so called social justice and identity politics view what happens in the totalitarian Communist regime that runs China as less worthy of attention than so called “social justice” issues than the US.

  8. Reb Yid says:

    The current administration has just imposed sanctions on China for this very item after only two months in office

    It’s more than anything the previous administration did in its entire term.

    • Steven Brizel says:

      The current administration allowed two senior diplomats to listen to and endure the political equivalent of an unjustified Mussar shnuess by two senior representatives of a totalitarian Communist dictatorship . If you think that the current administration will ever find out how, where, when and under whose auspices the pandemic originated in the Wuhan market and lab, you are IMO sadly mistaken.

  9. Dovid says:

    This may be a digression from the topic, but it also may prove useful on how we would respond to world events. Should our approach to responses be shaped on how others respond to our plight?

    If then-President Obama’s definition of a hate crime, based on the murderous rampage of the Hypercacher kosher supermarket in Paris, was applied to last week’s murderous rampage in Atlanta, then what happened in Atlanta would not be defined as a hate crime.

    Obama said the attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris was “random” and the presence of non-Jews in the supermarket was further “proof” that Jews weren’t specifically targeted. So based on this, since there were non-Asians present in the spas, and non-Asians were among the fatalities, that would be evidence (or proof) that the gunman was not specifically targeting Asians.

    However, Obama stated unequivocally that it was a hate crime targeting Asians. Apparently, all one need do is replace the identity variables of the perpetrator and the victim and that, ostensibly, draws the conclusion of what designates a hate crime.

    Now, before anyone misunderstands the point, regarding what occurred in Atlanta, the evidence and context overwhelmingly points to an example of a deadly hate crime.

    The point is that when Jews are targeted fatally, R”L, and the perpetrator doesn’t fit the profile of a ‘white nationalist’, the powers-that-be in the media, academia, and the Woke Nation are loathe to define the incident as bias or hate. Look no further than the murderous rampage in Jersey City and the media’s muted reaction.

    Again, if this is not a digression, this is meant to possibly define our place in the world, and the open question is whether it influences a decision on how to speak out about hate crimes impacting others, or whether we should speak out at all.

    • Steven Brizel says:

      The woke intersectional progressive left only considers it a “hate crime” when someone who is “oppressed” is the victim of such a crime, as opposed when someone who is purportedly “oppressed” commits a violent crime against anyone who is “privileged” and thereby a card carrying member of the “oppressive” class. This is how Marxist logic which has infiltrated academia, mainstream media and the liberal world approach these issues. This is why “white supremacy” and “gun control” are the first two narratives trotted out with a corresponding deep sense of denial or moral equivalence of Islamic terror or African American anti Semitism and/or anti Asian sentiment.

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