June 23, 2024
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Let’s Help the Uyghur People

Like many Jews, we often wonder why the American people did little to prevent the Holocaust. The question hides a subconscious fear: If a similar atrocity were repeated, would we notice?

The American media covered the Holocaust as it unfolded. If so, why the muted public response? Anti-Semitism certainly played a role, but another major factor is that most news is heard and forgotten. Many of us comfortingly assume that the sheer horror of human rights abuses will, on its own, rouse the world to action. But in truth, human rights alone cannot set off alarm bells, and in the 1940s, not enough people spoke out.

Currently, U.S. and U.N. estimate that China has imprisoned well over 1 million Uyghur people in concentration camps, where they are subjected to torture, rape, forced sterilization and forced disavowal of God. Eyewitnesses have testified before Congress confirming these reports.

Innocent people are imprisoned; women wanting to become mothers are forcibly sterilized; and God-seeking people are punished for their prayers. I personally know a Uyghur person who lives in the U.S. and whose family remains trapped in China. He told me that he hopes to save his 10-year-old daughter before she turns 12, because he fears that she will be violated and he will not be there to protect her.

As Jews, we hope לְתַקֵּן עולָם בְּמַלְכוּת שַׁ-דַּי וְכָל בְּנֵי בָשר יִקְרְאוּ בִשְׁמֶךָ, to establish a world where everyone recognizes God. In China, Uyghur inmates are forced to renounce God and instead swear allegiance to President Xi Jinping. Millions more are prevented from worshipping in public. How can we remain silent against this blatant desecration of the name of God?

As people who carry the memory of the Holocaust, we must vigilantly prevent similar atrocities. We know firsthand how apathy and inaction enables unfathomable destruction. We cannot rely on the scale of the atrocity to convince the world to act if we will not act ourselves. As Pirkei Avot teaches: If we only act for ourselves, then who are we? And if we do not act now, then when? Alarm bells will only be raised if we raise them.

Fortunately, the United States can pressure China to stop this genocide through diplomatic and economic pressure. Politically, the U.S. can sue China in the International Court of Justice of the United Nations for committing acts of genocide. Similar to the Nuremberg trials, these trials would draw international attention and condemn guilty officials. In addition, the U.S. should call to relocate the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing, eerily similar to the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin.

Economically, the U.S. should implement targeted sanctions against guilty Chinese officials and general sanctions against China. Such sanctions would destabilize China’s economy due to the heavy trade between China and the U.S. Recently, the U.S. banned all cotton and tomato imports from Xinjiang due to evidence that they are produced through Uyghur forced labor. The U.S. should ban all imports from the Xinjiang region unless clear evidence proves that they were not made with forced labor.

What work has been done so far? Currently, organizations like Campaign for Uyghurs, Uyghur Human Rights Project and Uyghur American Association work to combat this genocide by lobbying Congress. The Jewish community in particular has been outspoken on this issue, through organizations such as Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom, Jews for Uyghurs and Yeshiva University Stands with Uyghurs. We began our own organization, Uyghur Rally, two years ago, and we’ve seen a strong increase in attention to this crisis since then.

Although global focus on China’s genocide has been growing, there must be widespread public support for countries like the U.S. to implement effective measures against China. The government acts on issues its citizens care about. If we care about the Uyghur genocide, we need to send that message over, and over, and over, until we cannot be ignored.

What can you do? You can speak out. Organize demonstrations, call your representatives, and write articles about China’s genocide of the Uyghur people. Form or join local advocacy groups like the ones mentioned above. Abstain from companies using Uyghur forced labor (Zara and Nike, to name a couple). Finally, empathize with the victims. Attend events, listen to and read testimonials of Uyghur people with relatives in the camps. Invite Uyghur speakers to your community. Understand that this genocide is happening to real people.

On Monday, March 22 at noon, we are organizing a rally in Manhattan calling for our government to combat the Uyghur genocide through diplomacy and economic pressure. The rally will be held at 799 United Nations Plaza, in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

This rally is a concrete opportunity to take individual action. It is hosted by Uyghur Rally, Yeshiva University Stands with Uyghurs, Muslims for Progress, and Young Jews for Justice. Rally speakers include Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY’s 3rd District), Rabbi Yehuda Sarna (NYU Bronfman Center for Jewish Life); Imam Shamsi Ali (Jamaica Muslim Center); Dr. Olsi Jazexhi (reporter and eyewitness to the camps); Rushan Abbas (Campaign for Uyghurs;, Sophie Richardson (Human Rights Watch); Avi Hoffman (YU Stands with Uighurs); and Sami Steigmann (Holocaust survivor).

As Jews, we often wonder how the world could have let the Holocaust occur. The answer is that not enough people tried to stop it. We carry the memory of genocide, and it is our responsibility to prevent another genocide from continuing today.


Yosef Roth is a rabbinical student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Devora Chait-Roth is pursuing a computer science Ph.D. at New York University. Yosef and Devora are organizers of Uyghur Rally.

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