Ruth Ingram | Bitter Winter
Jewish faith groups join hands with Hongkongers, Tibetans, and Uyghurs to “reclaim the Games.”
Following Beijing’s unilateral decision to suspend the custom of traditional torch relays around the world to herald its hosting of the Winter Olympics, Jewish and human rights groups across Europe and in Tel Aviv took it upon themselves to hold simultaneous relays with a difference, to protest what they are dubbing, the “genocide games” taking place on Chinese soil.
Jewish activists fronted the action in Paris, Geneva, Warsaw, Munich, Brussels, London, and Tel Aviv designed to “reclaim the Games” through a show of solidarity with Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hongkongers, and other victims of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP_ oppression.
Spearheaded in the UK by Jewish advocacy group “Never Again. Right Now” in conjunction with “Yet Again UK” and “Stop Uyghur Genocide,” organizer Olaf Stando, President of the European Union of Jewish Students, hoped that the collaboration of the groups taking part would enable them to “reclaim the Olympic spirit of solidarity and shared humanity.”
Three hundred protesters marched from London’s Trafalgar Square calling for an end to the atrocities being meted out on minority groups in China and demanding that Beijing is stripped of the Games or at least the honor of a diplomatic presence at the event.
A replica Olympic torch, designed by Sashi Turkov, was passed between the Jewish, the Tibetan, the Hong Kong and the Uyghur representatives as the crowd moved towards Parliament Square and the shadow of Big Ben. The spiral of silver foil casing wrapped around a central red pillar symbolized the blood of the victims of torture, and was carried high above the streams of protesters. Wound with barbed wire protruding flame-like from its mouth, the torch was designed to represent the internment camps and endless reams of razor wire wrapped around every building, school, housing complex and street hoarding in Xinjiang. “We wanted people to visualize the genocide happening in China as the games take place,” explained Sashi.
Stando, describing the Chinese State as an “repressive, authoritarian, immoral and genocidal state,” condemned its intention to whitewash its crimes against humanity. “We will not stand for that,” he said, “while officials, politicians, athletes, and commentators in just under one hundred days will be basking under the warm glow of the stunning pyrotechnics and the beautiful new stadiums and the smiling mascots, China will continue violently and brutally suppressing Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hongkongers,” adding, “We say no to these genocide games.” He refused to allow Beijing to be “handed international approval on a silver platter.”
“As a Jew, my people have endured genocides and statelessness and persecution, not just during the Holocaust but for decades,” he said. “We often ask ourselves why was it that the world was silently watching and didn’t say anything. Why is it that while Jews were dying in the gas chambers in the concentration camps in Auschwitz, the world took so long to act?”
He stressed the life and death struggle currently taking place in China under the CCP. “This is a matter of survival or the death of our civilization. Our humanity is on the line and we are here today to say no to the genocide Games.”
Speakers pointed out that increasingly Beijing’s reach is beyond its own borders, citing the arrest of peaceful protesters in Athens during the lighting of the Olympic torch. This was a warning to stand up to Beijing before the oppression wreaked on its own people becomes a worldwide reality.
Jaya Pathak, regional ambassador for Yet Again UK was encouraged that the world was waking up to atrocities taking place in Xinjiang, and praised UK parliamentarians for voting for a boycott of the Games earlier this year. “We never thought this could happen a few years ago,” she said. She urged people to stand against Beijing’s attempt to whitewash the Games, by doing the opposite. “We must reveal what is happening and must continue to do this and not give up. There is hope and things will change. We can make a difference,” she stressed.
Rahima Mahmut, director of the World Uyghur Congress in London, whose own family has been lost to her since the clampdowns in 2018, moved by the solidarity and symbolism of the torch, decried the “insult” the games signifies to her people and all those suffering under CCP rule. “This rally is about the true unity of those standing together with my people,” she said, condemning the false narrative of celebration and shared humanity that should characterize Olympic sport.
Representatives of the Tibetan community spoke of the dark days for their people; of continued “occupation” of their land, and the 159 self immolations and deaths that had characterized the days since Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 games. Games that were awarded to China on the promise of improved human rights, had in fact delivered the opposite, said John Jones of “Free Tibet” who described Tibet as a “giant open prison.” “These games represent a horrific lapse of judgement on behalf of the International Olympic Committee,” he said.
The UK Jewish community in its role as the most prominent faith community to stand with and advocate on behalf of Uyghurs, has campaigned strongly, but unsuccessfully against the Beijing winter games. Mia Hasenson-Gross, executive director of Jewish advocacy group René Cassin, had hoped to hold the UK government to make amends for their support of Hitler’s 1936 games, she said. “We now have a unique opportunity to hold them to that decision they made then. There is still time for a diplomatic boycott,” she said.