Because of our history, many Jews feel that it is the responsibility of all of us in our community to stand up against persecution. Indeed, this year, we commemorated 76 years since the end of the Holocaust of Jews by Nazi Germany. Every year, on the 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the World remembers how one of the mightiest, most advanced nations in the world sought to commit genocide against a religious and ethnic minority in its midst.
Let us remember what Elie Wiesel once said: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander. And so while we must continue commemorating and educating about the horrors of the Holocaust, we must also devote ourselves to coming to the aid of those who are facing oppression and persecution today, such as the Uyghurs.
With that in mind, it is to its great credit that Magen Avot are hosting an entire conference on the topic of the Uyghurs this month.
Indeed, for some time now we at the Board of Deputies of British Jews have been gravely concerned about the treatment of the Uyghur people in China.
In the past 18 months, as well as hosting a number of events with the World Uyghur Congress and Muslim partners to highlight this issue, and making a number of interventions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the subject, I also went on record – for the first time – to compare China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews.
This is not a comparison that I make lightly. Indeed, it is not one that should ever be thrown around recklessly.
But nobody could watch the news reports over recent months about the Uyghurs, and fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 76 years ago.
– People being forcibly loaded on to trains;
– beards of religious men being trimmed;
– women being sterilised;
– and the grim spectre of concentration camps.
And so, as President of the Board of Deputies, I took the decision that this was something that had to be said.
Germany has rightly paid a heavy price for its persecution of the Jewish people. Its historic guilt rests heavily on it and, 76 years on, its leaders and representatives continue to do all they can to make amends for the sins of their forebears.
Germany has physically marked the atrocity with a moving memorial in the centre of its capital city and across the country individual paving stones bear the names of the people who were taken and murdered.
We know that China has faced its own persecution and humiliation by other countries over a number of centuries. But China risks squandering its achievements and sabotaging its own legacy if it fails to learn the lessons of history.
Earlier this year, the UK Parliament made a unanimous declaration that the treatment of the Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang Province by the Chinese Government amounts to genocide.
This historic vote, backed by MPs of all Parties, would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Nusrat Ghani MP, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China and of course the World Uyghur Congress. I pay tribute to their determination to ensure that the world does not turn aside and abandon the Uyghurs to their fate and reiterate, in no uncertain terms, that we stand with them in this struggle, now and always.
The World will neither forgive nor forget a genocide against the Uyghur people. So we urge China today to:
– release the Uyghur people and other minorities from all ethnic and religious oppression;
– throw open the doors of the camps to a full and impartial international investigation; – take action against the perpetrators of any human rights abuses;
– and ensure justice for the victims and their families.
This message ought to be heeded immediately, but sadly our experience to date shows that – so far – they are not listening.
So I applaud the work that Magen Avot Synagogue and the United Synagogue are doing to raise awareness and push for action, such as this month’s conference.
Campaigners on this issue have my support for important measures such as adding the names of more Chinese Government perpetrators to the UK ‘Magnitsky’ list, and proscribing companies and institutions which are facilitating these atrocities.
As I wrote in my letter to the Chinese ambassador last year, our message to China is simple: The world is watching, and the hand of history is poised. For its future, China has a choice between great pride, or eternal shame. Let it choose the former.