As more news and leaks come out of China about their treatment of the Muslim Uyghurs, Jewish leaders in the UK have become more and more outspoken on the issue. In the past week, the Board of Deputies has released a statement, as have many community groups and rabbis including the still influential emeritus Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks.
The outcry has been especially unusual because Jewish leaders have compared the experiences of the Uyghurs to the Jews during the Holocaust. ‘As a Jew, knowing our history, the sight of people being shaven headed, lined up, boarded onto trains, and sent to concentration camps is particularly harrowing’, Sacks tweeted.
Understandably, most Jews are very cautious when using this analogy and certainly get very angry when Gaza is compared to a concentration camp, that what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians is tantamount to genocide, or other similarities between the situation in Palestine and the Holocaust are made.
Jewish communal leaders are to be lauded for this response which is more than just words. Vigils, fundraising and solidarity events have been held as well as interventions with politicians.
But, as I follow our community’s reaction, I can’t help notice the stark contrast between the way we are responding in this case and the plight of Palestinians in Israel and Palestine.
Why does our leadership speak out on one matter but stay silent on another?
I am not comparing the plight of the Uyghurs with that of the Palestinians. The two are very different situations, and in my view, the later is more much complex.
I’m talking about the lack of speaking out by our leadership on aspects upon which most Jews in the UK agree. That the occupation is unjust and needs ending, that settlements are an obstacle to peace and that even the threat of unilateral annexation would be terrible for Israel and especially the Palestinians.
Surveys of Jewish attitudes in the UK show that these views are by far in the majority here. Most UK Jews support the existence of Israel, and most are in favour of a two-state solution based mainly on the principles put forward by Barak/Olmert.
We have seen a plethora of lay leadership speaking out against annexation and speaking up for Palestinian rights recently. This includes an article by former Board of Deputies chair Vivian Wineman, as well as many Jewish philanthropists and organisations on the centre-left of the community such as Yachad and the Jewish Labour Movement. However, it seems that the Board of Deputies, the incumbent Chief Rabbi, and other communal heads (with the exception of outgoing senior reform Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner) have not spoken up.
I understand some in the community would object to this, but do our leaders not have to show moral leadership? And isn’t it all the more so when the Israeli leadership, mostly Jewish, is making decisions in our name?
Many of the people calling for the BoD to stay silent on this issue were the same people calling for Muslims to call out Islamic terror (again not trying to make a direct comparison here). It would be unfair and antisemitic for non-Jews to demand Jews call out Israel, and at the same time its the moral duty of our communal leadership who are expressly Zionist to do so.
If our leaders do not take a stand, what message does that send to us? To our youth? To our family in Israel and to the world?
Uyghur lives matter and Palestinian lives matter!