China comes after its Jews
The Chinese Jewish community survived wars and persecution for centuries, but may not survive Xi Jinping.
It’s an iron law of dictatorships: at some point, the country’s Jewish community will be targeted:
For this year’s Hanukkah, Amir is lighting menorah candles and reciting blessings to celebrate the holiday’s eight nights, as many Jews are around the world.
But he does so in secret, worried that Chinese officials will come around – as they often do on religious occasions – to enforce a ban against Judaism, pressuring him to renounce his faith. Sometimes, he’s even called in for interrogations.
“Every time we celebrate, we are scared,” said Amir, not his real name as he asked not to be identified over worries of retaliation. "Whatever we do, we’re always very careful to make sure the authorities don’t find out.”
Since 2015, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has waged a harsh campaign against foreign influence and unapproved religion, part of a push to ‘Sinicise’ faith – ripping down church crosses and mosque onion domes, and detaining more than a million Muslims in the western Xinjiang region.
This time, it doesn’t look like the Jews of China are being singled out for punishment, but instead getting caught up in a wide-ranging campaign against “foreign” religions. Small comfort for followers of a faith that survived the freaking Cultural Revolution, but is now seeing its heritage dismantled:
Even for the five faiths that the Party does recognise and regulate – Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism – pressures abound. Buddhist temples, for instance, are allowed to display portraits of Mr Xi but not of the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities are also concerned about undue foreign influence if the Kaifeng Jewish community is allowed to build links with Jews abroad.
In Kaifeng, stones engraved as far back as 1489 with the community’s beliefs and ancestry have been removed from the spot where they once marked a 12th-century synagogue.
An ancient well, believed to be the synagogue’s last ruins, has likewise vanished under a cloak of cement. The authorities have also torn down the city’s few Hebrew signs that once marked the Teaching Torah Lane.
In that same lane, a spot where a few dozen Jews – some of whom were government officials – used to meet for services is now plastered in propaganda about China’s “management of religious affairs.” They include reminders that Judaism is prohibited. A security camera is directed at the entrance.
A handful of schools that taught Hebrew and Judaism – established by foreign Jews visiting Kaifeng – have been forced to shutter. Exhibits in a museum and historic merchant guild hall that documented the history of Jews in the city have also disappeared in favour of large pictures of Mr Xi.
The crackdown is so intense that Kaifeng residents are afraid to dine together in public. “It’s a small place,” one Jewish man said. “Restaurant managers know that we are the Jews, and they will report us to the authorities.”
What is the world’s only Jewish state doing about this? Just like the majority-Muslim countries that excuse and even defend China’s persecution of the Uyghur Muslims, Israel would prefer not to rock this boat:
Kaifeng Jews hope Israel will support them, though they aren't considered Jews under Israeli law – after generations of inter-marriage, Judaism has not been consistently passed down the maternal line. Mr Laytner also doubts that Israel wants to jeopardise Sino-Israeli relations “for the sake of a couple of thousand people."
Indeed Israel has deepened trade ties with China over recent years. The Israeli embassy didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
And, here’s the thing: the rest of us won’t really do anything about it, either. It was one thing to boycott South Africa during the Apartheid era - you could always get your oranges somewhere else - but shunning Chinese-made goods is almost impossible. And Daryl Morey can tell you what happens if you speak out too loudly.
This probably won’t change anyone’s buying habits, either. (Including my own; I’m sure my outrage will subside as soon as I see an awesome deal on GearBest.)
Alongside a large network of detention camps, in which more than a million are thought to have been detained, allegations that minority groups are being coerced into working in textile factories have already been well documented.
The Chinese government denies the claims, insisting that the camps are “vocational training schools” and the factories are part of a massive, and voluntary, “poverty alleviation” scheme.
But the new evidence suggests that upwards of half a million minority workers a year are also being marshalled into seasonal cotton picking under conditions that again appear to raise a high risk of coercion.
“In my view the implications are truly on a historical scale,” Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington who uncovered the documents, told the BBC.
“For the first time we not only have evidence of Uighur forced labour in manufacturing, in garment making, it’s directly about the picking of cotton, and I think that is such a game-changer.
“Anyone who cares about ethical sourcing has to look at Xinjiang, which is 85% of China’s cotton and 20% of the world’s cotton, and say, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’”
We will keep doing it, at least until China makes a move against Taiwan. I think globalization is a wonderful thing, compared to world stifled by nationalism and protectionism, but I can’t deny that it has a darker side.
“Erin O’Toole Claimed Residential School Architects Only Meant to ‘Provide Education’ to Indigenous Children,” reads the headline to this PressProgress story. In other news, no matter how bad your week is going, the people working in the Conservative Party of Canada head office are having a much worse one.
In the video, O’Toole discusses the controversy over the legacy of Egerton Ryerson, the school’s namesake and one of the architects of the residential school system, and also shares some tips on how Conservatives can win a debate against Liberals about residential schools.
“Most of the lefty radicals are also the dumbest people at your university,” O’Toole told the campus conservatives.
“Here’s a nugget you can say that, when I say it in parliament, it silences the Liberals like you wouldn’t believe: ‘You know who opened more residential schools than Egerton Ryerson? Pierre Elliott Trudeau’.”
Students groups have recently called for the removal of Egerton Ryerson’s statue from the university campus. “Where is the woke left calling for the renaming of the Trudeau airport?” O’Toole asked.
O’Toole accused Ryerson’s critics of “misrepresenting the past” for failing to criticize Trudeau’s involvement in residential schools as harshly as they criticize Ryerson’s. He went so far as to suggest Ryerson and other architects of the program only “meant to try and provide education” to Indigenous students:
“When Egerton Ryerson was called in by Hector Langevin and people it was meant to try and provide education. It became a horrible program that really harmed people and we have to learn from that and I wear orange. But we’re not helping anyone by misrepresenting the past.”
I agree with David Akin that the word “only” is doing a lot of work in that headline. O’Toole was not defending the residential schools - indeed, much of his presentation made the argument that Conservative governments did more than the Liberals to end them - though good luck explaining that to people on Twitter.
It is fair to say his comments were naive at best and ignorant at worst. The phrase “meant to try to provide education” greatly whitewashes what the architects of the residential school system were actually trying to achieve, which was to eliminate any trace of First Nations’ culture, traditions and spirituality. (Ryerson and Langevin may genuinely have believed they were doing the right thing, but that’s a different argument.)
If campus Conservatives were asking me how to “win a debate” about residential schools, my advice would be, “don’t.”
Ironically, the PressProgress story itself links to an article listing Pierre Trudeau - father of the current PM, and still very much a revered figure among supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada - among “9 Canadian leaders who contributed to Indigenous oppression”:
A 1988 film called Dancing around the Table documents the 1984 First Ministers' conference on Aboriginal Constitutional Matters, through which then-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau refused Indigenous people the right to self-govern.
For years, Trudeau Sr. advocated for the abolition of the Indian Act and the integration of Indigenous people into society.
"In 50 years from now, in what way will you be integrated? I don't say assimilated, I say integrated," he said at the conference.
In footage of the conference he also appears to be ridiculing Indigenous beliefs, customs and rituals.
"Are you going to pray every morning in public?" he asks the Indigenous leaders on one day of the conference, before instructing everyone in the room to pray to their own gods, then saying his own Christian prayers out loud over top the Indigenous ones.
“Going back to the creator doesn’t help very much," he also said at the conference, during talks about land ownership. "So he gave you a title. But did he draw on the land where your mountain stopped and someone else’s began?”
I do think O’Toole is on to something there - even if he doesn’t realize that lefty campus radicals don’t support either Trudeau any more than he does. Dianne Feinstein, for one, is currently being cancelled for less.
Granting clemency to Ross Ulbricht wouldn’t make me like Donald Trump - it’s far too late for that - but I’ll give credit where it’s due:
In his final weeks in office before Joe Biden’s inauguration, President Donald Trump is weighing granting clemency to Ross Ulbricht, the founder and former administrator of the world’s most famous darknet drug market, Silk Road, The Daily Beast has learned.
According to three people familiar with the matter, the White House counsel’s office has had documents related to Ulbricht’s case under review, and Trump was recently made aware of the situation and the pleas of the Silk Road founder’s allies. Two of these sources say the president has at times privately expressed some sympathy for Ulbricht’s situation and has been considering his name, among others, for his next round of commutations and pardons before the Jan. 20 inauguration of his 2020 Democratic opponent.
It is unclear if Trump has arrived at a final decision yet, but Ulbricht has gained some influential backers in the president’s political and social orbit. Behind the scenes, he has the support of some presidential advisers, as well as criminal justice reform advocates with close ties to the administration and Trump family, including Alice Johnson, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Ulbricht was the founder and administrator of the Silk Road darknet drug market, which used the Tor anonymity network to hide the location of servers and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin to allow users to purchase drugs anonymously. The website was the first large scale darknet drug market and spawned a host of imitators over the years, many of which have since closed down or been raided by law enforcement.
Ulbricht founded Silk Road after graduating with a master’s degree in materials science from Penn State and continued to administer the site from his home in San Francisco.
As the site gained in popularity and drew media scrutiny, law enforcement officials from the DEA, FBI, ICE, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Secret Service mounted a lengthy effort to uncover the identity of the Dread Pirate Roberts, the handle Ulbricht used while running the market.
Ulbricht made a series of errors in attempting to disguise his role in administering the site, including leaving a trail of personal information like email addresses and nicknames on web forum posts asking for help with cryptocurrency and darknet sites.
After investigators finally unmasked Ulbricht as the Dread Pirate Roberts, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara charged him with computer fraud, money laundering, and drug charges. In 2015 Ulbricht received a life sentence without the possibility of parole, in what many criminal justice reform activists called an excessive sentence for nonviolent offenses.
Prosecutors introduced chat logs at trial which they claimed showed Ulbricht commissioning the murder of five Silk Road users for stealing from the site and allegedly attempting to blackmail Ulbricht with his true identity. No murders ever took place, and while federal prosecutors in Maryland briefly charged Ulbricht with attempting to commission a single murder for hire, they dismissed the murder charges with prejudice.
The documentary Silk Road: Drugs, Death and the Dark Web, and Nick Bilton’s book American Kingpin, both get my highest recommendation. Ulbricht is a truly fascinating, eccentric character whose life sentence was grossly disproportionate for what he actually did.