A wide-ranging group of U.S. Jewish leaders plans to release a statement Wednesday urging Jews worldwide to boycott the Summer Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s troubling record on human rights and Tibet.
The statement also notes China’s close relationships with Iran, Syria and the militant group Hamas.
So far, 175 rabbis, seminary officials and other prominent Jews have signed the declaration, which comes shortly before Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, organizers said.
“We are deeply troubled by China’s support for the genocidal government of Sudan; its mistreatment of the people of Tibet; its denial of basic rights to its own citizens; and its provision of missiles to Iran and Syria, and friendship for Hamas,” the statement reads.
“Having endured the bitter experience of abandonment by our presumed allies during the Holocaust, we feel a particular obligation to speak out against injustice and persecution today.”
Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, past chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, said signers are not alleging that the Chinese government is the equivalent of the Nazi regime, but that China, like Germany in 1936, is trying to use the Olympics as a public relations tool to deflect attention from its record.
The declaration was organized by Greenberg and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York — both Orthodox Jews — and the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.
Several representatives of Judaism’s major U.S. branches and large Jewish institutions signed on. They include Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Neil Goldstein and Richard Gordon of the American Jewish Congress; and Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Conservative rabbis.
The statement seizes on Olympic organizers’ plans for a kosher kitchen at the Olympic Village, where athletes stay. Greenberg characterized the move as an attempt to lure Jewish tourists by presenting an image of sensitivity.
“I would say in principle, athletes and tourists and governments should all draw the same conclusion to this,” Greenberg said. “Unless the Chinese make some significant corrections, they should not participate.”
Meyers said he hopes the declaration is interpreted as a call for Israel and Jewish athletes worldwide to boycott the games, although he doubts such a boycott will come to pass.
“It would be good if that happened,” Meyers said. “(But) I know Israel has political ties to China, and does business with China. It presents a somewhat awkward issue for Israel.”