I love the Olympics. I still have. Since the summer of 1996, watching coverage of the summer games in Atlanta, I always took the time to watch the incredible athletes compete in sports that are often overlooked in America. My fraternity brothers and I even started curling at a local rink after the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. I share this with you because early this morning, in our time, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics were held in Beijing. Normally I would be very excited to watch. For the Tokyo Olympics, I even woke up in the middle of the night to watch! But this year, unless I watch the Opening Ceremonies coverage to see how NBC covers it, I won’t be watching. The Chinese government is committing genocide in Xinjiang against its Uyghur Muslim minority.
As a Jew and a member of the Kansas Holocaust Remembrance Commission, I am very careful about what is acceptable to call genocide. But China is trying to completely eliminate the culture, religion and ethnic identity of its Uyghur minority, and the Torah commands us that when bloodshed, we must not be indifferent.
When the Chinese Communist Party last hosted the Olympics in the summer of 2008, there was no genocide, but China has changed over the past 14 years. In April 2010, after the July 2009 riots by the Uyghur population in western China’s Xinjiang province, party theorists began calling for a more monocultural society with a ” unique “state race” that would allow China to become “a new kind of superpower.” Sound familiar?
In 2014, a secret Communist Party leadership meeting was held in Beijing to find a solution to the problem, which would become known as the Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism. It was the Wannsee Conference in China. In May 2014, China publicly launched the campaign in Xinjiang in response to growing tensions between Han Chinese and Uighur populations in Xinjiang. In 2016, there was a brief window of opportunity for Uyghurs with passports to leave China; many did but had to leave behind parents and children without passports. Many of these families have not been reunited.
Since then, it has accelerated. Following Beijing’s advice, the Party leadership in Xinjiang has launched a “people’s war” against the “three evil forces” of separatism, terrorism and extremism. They deployed 200,000 party cadres to Xinjiang and launched the matchmaking program between officials and families. This program would have Chinese Communist Party officials living in the homes of Uyghur citizens.
Beginning in 2018, more than one million Chinese government workers began forcibly living in the homes of Uyghur families to monitor and assess resistance to assimilation, as well as monitor frowned upon religious and cultural practices.
The “Pair Up and Become Family” program is a program in which Han Chinese men assigned to guard Uyghur homes slept in the same beds as Uyghur women. According to Radio Free Asia, these Han Chinese government employees were trained to call themselves “relatives” and engaged in forced cohabitation of Uyghur households in an effort to promote “ethnic unity”. Radio Free Asia reports that these men “regularly sleep in the same beds as the wives of men detained in internment camps in the region”.
New bans and regulations were implemented on April 1, 2017. Abnormally long beards and wearing the veil in public were both banned. Not watching public television or listening to radio broadcasts, refusing to comply with family planning policies, or refusing to allow one’s children to attend public schools were all prohibited.
The so-called “re-education” efforts began in 2014 and expanded into 2017. The party official ordered that the camps “be run like the military and defended like a prison.” At this time, internment camps were built to house students of “re-education” programs, most of whom were Uyghurs.
In 2017, China’s Ministry of Public Security began procuring race-based surveillance systems that could identify whether an individual was Uyghur. Despite its questionable accuracy, this added a “Uyghur alarm” to surveillance systems.
Enhanced border controls have also been put in place, with guilt being presumed in the absence of evidence, according to Zhu Hailun, who said, “If suspected terrorism cannot be ruled out, then border control should be put in place. place to ensure the arrest of the person”. The Chinese government only recognized the existence of the “re-education camps” in 2018 and referred to them as “vocational education and training centers”. The camps tripled in size from 2018 to 2019 despite the Chinese government saying most detainees had been released.
All of this is still happening. Human rights groups around the world believe the Chinese Communist Party is currently holding just over a million Uyghur Muslims in camps. Although I wouldn’t call it the Holocaust, it is clearly an attempt by a morally bankrupt regime that values the purity of its race and the uniformity of its culture above all else. eliminate an ethnic and religious minority with extreme prejudices.
In last week’s Torah portion we read that we should love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. What should we do when we know that the greatest injustice, and the hardest to escape, occurs in a country with which we have agreed to curl?
I am not a politician, but next week I will call and send letters to each of my national representatives, asking them why this serious crime has continued. And when the Uyghurs are gone, who will be the next “socially unacceptable” ethnic or religious group for the CCP? Or would you believe that we should forgive everything because a member of this Uyghur minority was one of the Chinese athletes who lit the Olympic cauldron? I remind you that the Nazis allowed a half-Jew who lived in America to be the only German Jewish athlete at the Berlin Games in 1936. Her name was Hélène Mayer. This may have calmed the critics of Germany, but no one should have been fooled by their intentions.
The major point of this week’s parashah, Terumah, is that every Israelite should give what his heart has moved him to give for the building of the Mishkan. I remember that in carrying out any major task, we combine the wisdom of this week, that we should give what we are driven to give, with that of Pirke Avot, who teaches us that we don’t have to finish the task, although we are not free to give it up either. We are not exempt from the duty to ensure that the phrase “never again” has meaning. Jews around the world should do their part to generate public interest and outcry so that our government exerts maximum pressure on the Chinese Communist Party to free Uyghurs from slavery. It is not unprecedented that populations suffering under repressive regimes can be liberated, we have done this before. May our efforts be crowned with success.
Samuel Stern is the rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Topeka, Kansas.