Jewish activists led a rally outside the UN for Uyghur Muslims in March.

Jewish Activism for the Uyghur Muslims

There is extensive documentation, constituting indisputable evidence, that China has been actively ethnically cleansing and persecuting its Uyghur Muslim population.  The Uyghur inhabitants of China’s Xinjiang province have been victims of a variety of methods used by the Chinese government to erase the Uygur religion and culture.  Their situation is highly reminiscent of one 75 years ago during the Holocaust.  While the entire global community has a responsibility to prevent such an atrocity from continuing, Jews in particular have a moral imperative to step in given our history.

Uyghurs from Xinjiang province are frequently taken to “reeducation camps” with the intent of eliminating their cultural and religious identity, and indoctrinating them with Chinese propaganda.  These facilities are known to employ an array of inhumane methods to achieve their already nefarious goals.  While Chinese officials have compared the concentration camps to boarding schools, Uyghurs who have experienced them firsthand say the conditions are far more comparable to jails. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, the camps have thousands of guards armed with spiked cubs, tear gas, and stun guns.  The premises are surrounded by barbed wire and infrared cameras.  Forced labor and torture are both utilized as methods of “reeducation” in the camps.  Further, according to a Reuters report, the size of many of the camps has tripled in the last few years.  Estimates hold that as many as 3 million Uyghurs are currently detained indefinitely.

Outside of the camps there are numerous other ways the Chinese government is persecuting its Uyghur population.  The government extensively monitors the Uyghurs, taking note if a Uyghur gets a passport, participates in religious rituals, or even prays daily.  The Uyghur language is banned in schools and Uyghur mosques are being shut down.  

 Most horrifically, there is evidence that suggests the Chinese government forces abortion and sterilization of Uyghur women, potentially instigating a silent genocide.  By the government’s own documentation, the birth rate in Ugyhur population centers is down an average of 84% since 2015.  Two counties populated predominantly by Ugyhurs planned to complete sterilization procedures on up to 34% of females between 18 and 49 in a single year.  This seems to meet the UN criterias for a physical genocide which states that “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the [targeted] group” qualifies as a genocide.

We Jews continue to remember, with tears, the Holocaust.  When we memorialize it yearly, we repeat the mantra “never again.”  This adage should not only apply to Jews: we have a special responsibility to advocate for other persecuted minorities, and to prevent genocide from happening again.  There is no question of whether we must take action against these injustices.  The only valid question is how we can effectively do so.  

One step American Jews can take in preventing the genocide from continuing is to disable companies profiting from human rights abuses from operating in America.  As of now, the US has put sanctions on a few Chinese government officials who are directly involved in the genocide, but companies who are beneffitng from forced Uyghur labor are still active in America.  Amazon, for instance, purchased 10 million dollars worth of fever detection cameras from one such company.  

Jewish Americans should motivate their congressional representatives to pass far reaching legislation prohibiting these companies from engaging in business in America.

Additionally, Jewish American need to pressure global brands to end their dependence on companies that use forced Uyghur labor.  As much as 84% of China’s cotton exports come from the Xinjiang province, meaning that it is produced with forced Uyghur labor.  The final product of that cotton is merchandise from well known brands such as Levi’s, Gap, and LL Bean.  Jewish activists and organizations should join the dozens of organizations worldwide that have issued statements calling for the fashion industry to end its dependence on forced Uyghur labor.  Further, Jewish Americans should participate in boycotts of brands that do not eliminate their connections to human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Finally, Jews need to work towards the prevention of Uyghur escapees being sent back to Xinjiang.  A significant number of countries deport Uyghurs who have escaped, due to their refugee policies or other reasons.  This injustice should resonate deeply with Jews who remember the thousands of Jewish lives lost when nearly every country closed their borders to us during the holocaust.

Jewish activism is crucial to preventing the continuation of the genocide against the Uyghur Muslims.  We have an obligation to make a concerted effort on the behalf of imperiled minorities, and to prevent history from repeating itself.  When we say “never forget,” we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of minorities whose experiences so clearly mirrors our own long and brutal history of persecution.

Gabriella Jacobs is a junior at ​Maayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in New Jersey. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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