UK government

Jewish leaders use Holocaust Day to decry persecution of Uighurs

Jewish leaders use Holocaust Day to decry persecution of Uighurs

UK community speaks out in effort to pressure government to take stronger stance

People take part in a demonstration in September against China’s persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
People take part in a demonstration in September against China’s persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty
 
Sun 24 Jan 2021 04.30 EST

Leading figures in the UK Jewish community are using Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January to focus on the persecution of Uighur Muslims, saying Jews have the “moral authority and moral duty” to speak out.

Rabbis, community leaders and Holocaust survivors have been at the forefront of efforts to put pressure on the UK government to take a stronger stance over China’s brutal treatment of the Uighurs.

 

In a recent letter to the prime minister, Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “As a community, we are always extremely hesitant to consider comparisons with the Holocaust.”

However, there were similarities between what is reported to be happening in China and what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s, she said. Urging Boris Johnson to take action, she said violations of the Uighurs’ human rights were “shaping up to be the most serious outrage of our time”.

On Monday, René Cassin, a Jewish human rights organisation, will co-host an interfaith event for Holocaust Memorial Day to highlight the detention of more than a million Uighurs and people from other minorities in camps in Xinjiang in north-west China. A video to accompany the event features a number of senior rabbis alongside Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, and Andrew Copson, the chief executive of Humanists UK.

Mia Hasenson-Gross, executive director of René Cassin, said using Holocaust Memorial Day to focus on another group of persecuted people was “significant” for Jews. She told the Observer: “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.”

Jonathan Wittenberg, the senior rabbi of Masorti Judaism, who is speaking at the event, said: “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.” The UK Jewish community was “very strongly behind” the calls for action to protect the Uighurs, said Wittenberg, some of whose relatives were killed in Auschwitz.

Last week, an attempt to require the government to reconsider any trade deal with a country found by the high court to be committing genocide was narrowly lost in parliament. The measure, backed by religious groups and a powerful cross-party alliance of MPs, was primarily directed at protecting the Uighurs.

Ahead of the parliamentary debate, Jewish News published a rare special midweek front page, saying “few issues could… be more urgent than the human rights atrocities currently taking place against Uighur Muslims under the world’s nose”.

Justin Cohen, the paper’s news editor, told the Observer: “Two key aims of Holocaust education today are encouraging young people to speak out against all forms of discrimination at the first signs, and sounding a warning that the Nazi persecution of the Jews didn’t start with the gas chambers.

“This is why survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides can play such a key role in speaking out in support of the Uighurs, and why their children and grandchildren feel such a strong impetus to do so.”

Last week, the outgoing US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his successor in the new Biden administration, Anthony Blinken, stated that China was committing ongoing genocide against the Uighurs.

Uighurs and other Muslims are reported to face starvation, torture, murder, sexual violence, slave labour and forced organ extraction in what China descibes as “re-education” camps. Former detainees have claimed women are forcibly sterilised.

China insists that Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting civil unrest and sabotage.

Lawmakers blasted the UK government for sharing ‘confidential’ information in private messages to TikTok execs

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Boris Johnson Edward Lister
Boris Johnson’s (left) senior aide Sir Edward Lister (right) was among those receiving the messages with TikTok 
Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images
  • British politicians reacted to Insider revealing the UK government told TikTok the ‘confidential’ identity of its next China ambassador.
  • One says Downing Street faces ‘serious questions’ on the tranche of messages, obtained under Freedom of Information laws.
  • They also showed the government trying to reassure TikTok over new national security powers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government has “serious questions” to answer, lawmakers have said after Insider revealed it told TikTok the confidential identity of its next China ambassador before the appointment was confirmed.

Insider published internal conversations between TikTok and senior government officials from January to June 2020, when the video app was reportedly negotiating to base its global headquarters in London.

The conversations took place even as TikTok was the subject of national security concerns in the US due to its ties to China.

Officials from the government’s trade department tried to reassure TikTok over wider plans to boost government powers to police foreign investments into the UK, the messages show.

The Department for International Trade (DfiT) also revealed, then asked TikTok to be “discreet” about, the news Caroline Wilson was likely the UK’s next ambassador to China, before the appointment was confirmed and four months before it was announced.  

Read the UK government correspondence with TikTok exclusively obtained by Insider

Politicians blasted the government for the revelations.

Labour MP Chris Elmore, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on social media, said the messages “leave a trail right to the Prime Minister’s own office.” Recipients on the messages included senior Downing Street officials such as Sir Edward Lister, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief strategic advisor.

Elmore added: “There are now serious questions that need to be answered by the UK government … We must all be concerned that strictly confidential information of national importance is being willingly shared with social media companies.

“We need to know what direction the Prime Minister gave to his staff to provide this information with TikTok, when did he first learn about this email exchange and what other sensitive information may have been shared from his office.”

“It is utterly contemptible to find ourselves yet again in the position where social media companies are operating in cosy back rooms to gain influence at the very heart of government.”

Andrew Lewer, a member of the China Research Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs launched by senior Tories last year to shape policy on China, was surprised by how the government acted.

He added attitudes to China have changed since the messages were sent last June. Conservative lawmakersare increasingly concerned about the UK’s trading relationship with China, particularly in light of atrocities against its Uighur minority population.

 

Insider originally requested the documents under Freedom of Information laws in July. 

“Reports of the contents of these documents serve to show how quickly sentiment within both government and the Parliamentary Party is hardening towards China,” Lever said, speaking personally rather than for the CRG.

“Some elements of these conversations, as reported, would be, at the very least, difficult to envisage happening now, even though it is less than a year later. They also illustrate the growing tension between China as a market for UK plc and its status as a human-rights abuser on a vast scale.”

Luke de Pulford, coordinator of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of lawmakers whose members include former UK Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former US presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio, was also worried.

 

He decried “the so-called ‘Golden Era'” of British-Chinese relations under past governments when “the UK sold out to China, shelving our values in the hope of economic gain.”

“Many key civil servants have yet to smell the coffee,” he said. “There cannot be business as usual or behind closed doors deals with states credibly accused of genocide.”

Fears of TikTok’s ties to China stem from the fact its parent company ByteDance, though registered in the Cayman Islands, is headquartered in Beijing. Lawmakers worry that the firm could be compelled to hand over information about users to the Chinese regime.

TikTok has repeatedly denied it would share user data with the Chinese Government if asked.

 

TikTok declined to comment and DfIT did not respond.