(February 7, 2022 / JNS) On his Facebook page last week, Elisha Wiesel—the son of the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel—had a poignant accusation for the world, and especially for those who revered the lessons his father tried to impart about the importance of speaking up against atrocities and totalitarian regimes.
The evening after millions had tuned into the Opening Ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and after he had witnessed only a few paltry souls turning up in New York City’s Times Square to protest the holding of the sports extravaganza in the capital of a nation that is currently committing genocide against its own citizens, he came to a stark conclusion.
“I know now that we have failed my father in this regard. He did not fail us. He spoke of how he always felt he had to answer to the dead: Did he do enough? And yes. He did. He was there to speak up against atrocities in Darfur, Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda. He tried with everything he had to tell us. And all the words he spoke and wrote could not change the fact that five years after his death, 1 million people are reportedly in concentration camps because of their race and religion in the grip of a totalitarian regime. And this regime is honored today to host the world’s nations!”
He’s right about that.
As Wiesel correctly points out, over the past year, there have been plenty of opportunities for lobbying the CEOs of the companies that sponsor the Olympics as well as NBC, which is broadcasting the event on its various channels and streaming platforms. They had enough clout to demand a venue change in spite of the Chinese winning the bid to host them in 2015. But despite the fact that virtually no one in the civilized world disputes the facts about the horrors being visited on the Uyghurs, who live in the western province of Xinjiang, it’s been business as usual for the overwhelming majority of companies, corporations, entertainment providers and sports leagues that do business in China.
To state it plainly, the most egregious violations of human rights—involving murder, rape, forced sterilization, enslavement and forced population transfers away from their homes—have been carried out by the regime run by the Chinese Communist Party, and most of the rest of the world simply doesn’t care.
Not everyone has stated this as plainly as Chamath Palihapitiya, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors, though he seemed to speak for many leaders of the business world and the entertainment industry when he said on a podcast that: “Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK. You bring it up because you care, and I think it’s nice that you care. The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line.”
Some in the NBA—most notably Enes Kantor, the Turkish-born Boston Celtics player who is an outspoken advocate for human rights—pushed back at Palihapitiya’s comments. But they reflected the mindset that has governed the league’s approach to China, which was also expressed by basketball superstar LeBron James, who on other issues poses as an activist.
The hypocrisy there and elsewhere in the sports and corporate world is unmistakable. Few are more woke than the NBA with its constant drumbeat of advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement. But it has made it clear that nothing—least of all worries about genocide or the suppression of democracy in supposedly autonomous Hong Kong—is to interfere with its efforts to break into the Chinese market.
The same is true for many other businesses that grandstanded in the spring of last year about how awful a new voting law passed in Georgia was, leading to boycotts of the state, including the moving of Major League Baseball’s All-Star game from Atlanta. This was mere partisan gaslighting since the law actually did nothing to impede anyone’s right to vote, let alone constitute “Jim Crow 2.0,” as President Joe Biden mischaracterized it. But the same people who were so outraged about that largely fake concern are strangely unmoved by genocide in China.
To his credit, Biden did mention human-rights concerns in a virtual conference call last fall with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But his gentle remonstrances with no talk of consequences sent a clear message that the United States was merely paying lip service to these concerns. So did Biden’s empty gesture in which he declared a “diplomatic boycott” of the Olympic Games, which meant that officials (who would never be missed) would stay away while everyone else went. Biden lacked the guts to defy the sports establishment and the corporations that have invested billions in China to declare a true boycott. Still, there was also little evidence that many people really cared enough about it for it to be worth the expenditure of any political capital on the issue.
Many in his party have been sending clear signals that they don’t actually think America has the right to speak up about human rights because of our own shortcomings. To her shame, Vice President Kamala Harris recently sounded what is becoming a familiar note on the political left in which advocacy for toxic myths like critical race theory disqualifies the United States from having an opinion about China. America has a troubled history and is not perfect, but does anyone really think its shortcomings should have prevented Americans from saving the world from Nazism or defeating Soviet Communism in the 20th century?
Despite isolationism being a factor in U.S. politics, the notion that no one cares about China is false. There may be a number of explanations for the severe decline in ratings, which are down 43 percent from the 2018 Games, for NBC’s broadcast of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. But it is also true that Americans are more turned off by an Olympics being held in a country committing genocide than the corporate class and Biden think.
There’s another aspect to the free pass that Beijing is essentially getting from the civilized world for its criminal behavior that is equally disturbing.
Most human-rights groups have condemned China. But is there any doubt about the fact that the international human-rights community’s real priority is its war on Israel?
Last week Amnesty International issued a report in which it falsely condemned Israel as an “apartheid state.” Groups that pose as the arbiters of human-rights advocacy are investing far more effort on a smear campaign that seeks the elimination of the one Jewish state on the planet than in their protests about the persecution of more than a million human beings. The complicity of the United Nations in this—it is launching an open-ended probe of Israel intended to make it a pariah nation and revive the old Soviet “Zionism is racism” lie—while doing nothing about China makes this all the more obvious.
Certain Jewish groups have always been deterred to some extent from speaking out as much about China as they did, for example, about genocide in Darfur earlier in the century due to the business interests of their large donors.
Others in the Jewish community haven’t evinced much interest in the issue because they think their sole focus should be on defending Israel and in fighting against the rising tide of anti-Semitism that is spreading across the globe. But the precedent for the use of an Olympics by a human-rights offender—the 1936 Berlin Games that were a paean to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime—ought to motivate us to action.
Jews are capable of standing up for themselves and bearing witness against other human-rights disasters. That was the point of Elie Wiesel’s teachings about the Holocaust. If we have forgotten that—or worse, never really learned the lesson—then his son is right that we are failing him and ourselves, as well as the victims of the Chinese Communist Party.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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