A genocide on our watch

Anti-China protest for the Uyghurs outside the White House. (Malcolm Brown from Washington, DC)

At their recent meeting, leaders of the Group of Seven issued a call to China to “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Chief among those who have been stripped of their basic freedoms are the Uyghurs, a Turkic Muslim people who live in the northwestern Xinjiang province. In a campaign of ethnic cleansing, China’s Communist government is trying to wipe out the Uyghurs, culturally and physically.

According to a recent piece by Jonathan Tobin, “Since 2014, China’s ruling Communist Party has been carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide against [the Uyghurs]. Acting under the authority of President Xi Jinping, crimes against humanity have been taking place there on an enormous scale, including mass imprisonment, systematic torture, rape, forced abortions and sterilizations. At least 1 million Uyghurs have been sent to the … Chinese gulag of prison camps.” The Chinese call the sprawling detention facilities “vocational training centers,” but others say they resemble concentration camps.

Although these atrocities are happening in a remote spot on earth, we are not so detached from them. Some 20% of cotton products worldwide come from China. And the list of companies suspected of directly employing forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that use forced labor include some of the most recognizable U.S. brands. We see no point in calling them out at this time, but we do call upon them to investigate the allegation and make public any information they learn.

In light of China’s multipronged attempt to disappear an entire people, the G7 declaration was milquetoast. And the Jewish community, while not silent on the issue, has not been very loud, either. Where is the outrage to the genocide in Darfur and proactive effort we saw years ago?

Tobin posits that one reason for the relative silence could be that “countless American institutions are heavily invested in a solid relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, and many major donors to Jewish groups would be hurt by a campaign that called for more than lip service to the Uyghurs.” We hope he is wrong, but others involved in international human rights activity seem to agree.

But is it even possible to boycott China? The post-World War II boycott of German goods was limited to a few luxury items. And since the Soviet Union produced next to nothing, boycotting the Russians in the cause of Soviet Jewry was not even a thought. China is different. It has made itself virtually indispensable by producing goods that are cheap and plentiful, and by buying up our debt.

So how can we make our point about the Uyghurs?

We suggest beginning with communal support for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, pending in both houses of Congress, which ensures that “goods being made by Uyghur forced labor do not enter our markets and make all Americans unwitting accomplices.”

As Jews, as Americans and as people devoted to justice, we must speak out against mass murder and genocide.

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