Why are Jews celebrating Chanukah with Uyghur Muslims tonight?

Because of genocide, writes Dr Sheldon Stone

December 10, 2020 10:36

Tonight, the first night of Chanukah, eight Jewish Youth organisations will unite online to light the candles with Rahima Mahmut, Director of the London Office of the World Uyghur Congress, following a webinar to raise the profile of the Uyghur genocide and ask young Jews how to help. 

There will be a similar event 3 days later for all ages, with each candle lit jointly by a Jew and an Uyghur. 

In the USA that night, the Jewish Movement for Uyghur Freedom will join the European Union of Jewish Students in lighting candles. 

All events are part of the human rights week held by Rene Cassin, the UN-accredited Jewish Voice of Human Rights. But why choose Chanukah to highlight the Uyghur problem?

The background, well covered in the Jewish press, is that the Uyghur Muslims, comprising less than 1% of China’s population, face what the Canadian parliament has determined is a genocide, facilitated by  digital surveillance through China’s high-tech companies. Up to 3 million are interned in concentration camps.  Nearly 1 million children have been removed from their families to boarding schools forbidding Islam or speaking Uyghur. State programmes organise forced labour, sterilisation of women and organ harvesting. 

The aim is destroy Uyghurs as a religious and cultural entity and, in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) words, "break their legacy, break their roots, break their connections and break their origins." 

The late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the President of the Board of Deputies and the Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust have written how the scenes of Uyghur slaves transported by train, the concentrations camps and the discovery of wigs made from Uyghur women’s hair, evoke echoes of the Holocaust. Our community has, more than any other in the UK, spoken up for the Uyghurs, following Hillel’s words (Shabbat 31a) that “what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow,” for we know what it is like to suffer this way, with too few to speak up for us. 

We have taken the commandment “do not stand idly by your neighbour’s blood” (Leviticus 19.15) to heart. 

But why speak out at Chanukah? After all, Chanukah represents our defeat of an Imperial oppressor and there is no such triumph in view for the Uyghurs. 

The connection is that Chanukah was “the genocide that nearly happened”. The Greek empire tried to destroy us as a religious and cultural entity as the CCP is doing to the Uyghurs.

The details of what both oppressors did are remarkably similar. 

Our temple was desecrated and defiled. Uyghurs’ mosques and burial grounds are destroyed. 

Both Greece and the CCP banned religious circumcision. 

The Greeks forced us to eat Pork under threat of death and torture. The CCP force Uyghurs to eat pork and drink alcohol or face torture.  

Antiochus, the Greek Emperor, charged his generals with enslaving the population (Josephus, Antiquities, Book 12 Chapter 7;2;296). Uyghur slave labour has infected the global supply chain. 

Jewish brides had to sleep with a Greek officer before marrying their Jewish fiancé. Uyghur girls are forced to marry Han Chinese men. Wives of interned men must share their beds with male Han officials, visiting to “befriend” the families. 

Josephus, the Romano-Jewish historian writing 270 years later, records that Antiochus sought to “abolish the whole nation” (Antiquities, Book 12 Chapter 7;2;296).  During the ensuing armed resistance, Judah Maccabi exhorted his men to fight to “afford us the liberty of worshipping God” (302) and to “regain a happy and blessed way of living….according to our laws and the customs of our country”. After the Jews’ victory, Judah declared an eight-day festival to celebrate restoration of the Temple Service and the rekindling of the Menorah.  

According to Josephus, they were so happy “at the revival of their customs” and at “regaining their freedom of worship” that they decided to celebrate every year with an eight-day festival “ we called ‘Lights’ because a  liberty beyond all our hopes appeared to us (Book 12 Chapter 7;7;323-5).” 

This is how the Chanukah lights came to symbolise hope and freedom.

The Uyghurs want, as we did, “their freedom of worship” and “revival of their customs.” There is no doubt that by speaking up, the UK Jewish community has encouraged, empowered and lifted the spirits of the Uyghurs and their advocates.   

As we share the candle-lighting with Uyghurs, we are witness that these candles are still a symbol of hope, that they too will one day regain their religious and cultural freedom, with God’s help, that of ourselves and the wider world. 

If you want to help the Uyghurs, here are 3 things to do: Donate; Write to your  MP;  Don’t buy  Chinese Cotton, PPE, Wigs or Hitech.  
Dr Sheldon Stone is a member of the Advisory Board, StopUyghurGenocide, World Uyghur Congress, London and is Rene Cassin Human Rights Fellow


December 10, 2020 10:36

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