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UK Jewish leaders to speak out on Uighur genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day

Human rights activists have accused China of genocide against Uighurs [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 January, 2021

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Jewish community leaders are planning to speak out against China’s persecution of its Uighur Muslim minority on Holocaust Memorial Day, drawing comparisons with Nazi treatment of Jews.

Jewish community leaders in the United Kingdom are planning to use Holocaust Memorial Day to speak out against China’s ongoing oppression of Uighur Muslims.

The victims of Nazi persecution are commemorated every year in the UK on Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on 27 January.

Victims of other genocides, such as those which took place in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia, are also remembered.

Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying that there were similarities between China’s treatment of the Uighurs and events in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s, the UK newspaper The Observer reported.

“As a community, we are always extremely hesitant to consider comparisons with the Holocaust,” she said in the letter, but China’s violations of Uighur human rights were “shaping up to be the most serious outrage of our time”.

Read also: How capitalism is enabling China's Uighur repression

The Jewish human rights organisation Rene Cassin will show a video on Holocaust Memorial Day, shedding light on the imprisonment of more than one million Uighurs by China in the Xinjiang region. It will feature messages from senior rabbis as well as Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Last week, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Anthony Blinken, his successor in the Biden administration, said that China was committing genocide against Uighurs.

The Chinese embassy in the US angrily denied the claim.

However, human rights organisations and former Uighur detainees have reported that Uighurs have faced torture, murder, rape, slave labour, and forced organ extraction in Chinese detention camps.

Women have also been forcibly sterilised, according to reports.

Mia Hasenson-Gross, executive director of Rene Cassin, told The Observer that the experience of Jews under Nazi Germany meant that they had a “moral duty” to speak out about the persecution of Uighurs.  

“We have been there, we have experienced this. The difference now is that there is still time to act. Jews have the moral authority and a moral duty to speak out now. Never again should civil society, businesses and decision-makers be silent as in the 1930s,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of the Masorti Jewish community, whose relatives were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

“We have learned on the body of our own people what persecution means. It is morally indefensible to be silent when crimes are perpetrated against another people, simply because of who they are,” he told The Observer.

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