What is happening in China has a parallel in the Holocaust, says Board president

MPs and the Jewish communal group call for action to protect the Uyghurs


Demonstrators hold up a giant East Turkestan (Uyghur) flag as they take part in a protest outside the Chinese embassy in Berlin on December 27, 2019, to call attention to Chinas mistreatment of members of the Uyghur community in western China. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP) (Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Senior MPs and the Board of Deputies have drawn parallels between the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany and the plight of China’s Uyghurs. 

A cross-party group of MPs attended a meeting hosted by the Board on Thursday to call for action to protect the mostly Muslim group.

Beijing faces widespread claims of human rights abuses, including allegations of forced labour and sterilisation, which it denies. It also continues to claim that detention camps in its Xinjiang province where many Uyghurs have been held offer vocational training.

The Board of Deputies urged MPs to back a Lords amendment, expected to be brought to the House of Commons next week, that would empower the High Court to revoke trade deals with countries found to have committed genocide. 

Speaking after the event, Board President Marie Van der Zyl said it was “not too late to act” and urged the government “to listen to the many Conservative MPs who support this amendment.”

She also condemned the failure of the international community to prevent atrocities after the Holocaust. She said: “After the Holocaust, the world said ‘never again’. 

“But when 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda by Hutu extremists, the UN barely lifted a finger in response. 

“Following another genocide of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, we heard expressions of dismay by those who had failed them. Today we are at another of these crossroads. 

“Nobody who has watched the news could fail to notice the similarities between what is happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago.”

Former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith read aloud a passage from Martin Niemöller’s postwar poem, “First they came”.

“It was said that the Uyghurs by the Chinese authorities had no rights. That reminds me of the way in which the Jews were treated in the 1940s, as termed untermensch, people with no humanity. 

“What you did to them didn’t matter. They were so much vermin, to be treated as such, and that I think is going on,” he told the event. 

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, meanwhile, said the treatment of Uyghurs was “a scar on the conscience of the world.”

She also referred to a “chilling” letter penned by Ms Van der Zyl last year in which she laid out similarities between events in Nazi Germany and Xinjiang.

Ms Nandy said: “The people being forcibly loaded onto trains, the beards of religious men being trimmed, the women being sterilised, the grim spectre of concentration camps. 

“For those of us who’ve grown up knowing and learning only too well about the Holocaust, with parents or in my case grandparents who fought in the war in order to stop that from happening, we just feel absolutely that it would not be in keeping with the UK’s tradition of standing up to mass atrocities, to persecution and against that Holocaust, to turn away now.”

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