Often, the actions we don’t take are just as notable and eye-opening as the ones we do. The upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which are slated to take place in February, has people, organizations, and governments deciding whether to boycott or not boycott the games. According to the Jewish Movement for Uighur Freedom, the Chinese government has forced Uighur Muslims, who generally live in the western part of the country, into “re-education camps” that look eerily similar to the concentration camps of World War II. Yet, while many of its allies, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, chose to diplomatically boycott the Olympics by not sending officials, Israel remained silent and is planning to proceed as usual.
A Foreign Ministry told Haaretz that the country had “other interests that it has to balance,” which likely refers to increasingly positive economic relations between China and Israel. But for a country that is often very eager to stand up for minority groups across the globe, as they have with Ethiopians in recent years, these actions appear very out of character.
Serena Oberstein, executive director of Jewish World Watch, a Los Angeles-based human rights organization, noted “it was very clear that there are similarities with what’s happening in Beijing as to what was happening in Berlin in 1936.” Oberstein refers to the 1936 Olympics that were held under Adolf Hitler’s reign in Germany when the persecution of the Jews that would eventually lead to their genocide had already begun.
Jewish World Watch is just one of many groups that comprise the Berlin Beijing coalition, a Jewish-led network that is pushing for a continued and expanded boycott of the games. Their website resources include a timeline of the parallels between the Berlin and Beijing Olympics, a list of ways for activists to take a stand, and links to news stories on the boycott.
While the groups and countries participating and advocating for the boycott want to see a change, most don’t want the Olympics to be canceled in its entirety, as it would be unfair for athletes, trainers, and fans across the globe.
“We feel like an overall boycott doesn’t make sense,” said Oberstein, “because there are lots of athletes, Jewish and not, from a variety of countries who have worked their whole lives to compete in these games, and we don’t want to punish the athletes.”
Another group that is a part of the Berlin Beijing coalition is the Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom, started by college and graduate students across the globe in 2020. Aside from being part of the coalition, they organize initiatives at college campuses and provide other Jewish organizations with resources to help them support the Uighur people. They also post stories about events regarding the Uighur people and tie them back to Jewish holidays and writings. Even though it is only run by a group of nine young adults, the movement has still found a way to make an impact in numerous countries and raise awareness for the Uighurs.
As Jews, it is our job to recognize when a group is being oppressed and stand up for them in whatever way we can. This can mean sending letters to foreign diplomats encouraging them to boycott the Olympics or donating to organizations that support the Uighur people. It is important that we do not forget the horrors our people endured so that we do not allow any other minority group to endure such agony again.