For the first time in Los Angeles, a Jewish organization held a rally to speak out against the persecution of a Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Jewish World Watch held a protest Nov. 8 outside the Myanmar Consulate General in Koreatown to protest that country’s treatment of the Rohingya people. Holding signs and chanting “Stop Rohingya genocide!” and “Silence is violence!,” some 50 people — including representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities and about a half-dozen local Rohingyas — marched outside the Wilshire Boulevard high-rise housing the consulate.
Speaking through a megaphoine, Zubair Ahmed, a Myanmar-born Rohingya Muslim who lives in Hawthorne, thanked the protesters. “You all will be blessed by almighty God, because you are standing up for the Rohingya people,” he said
The Rohingya people are indigenous to southeast Asia and until recently had their population center in the western part of majority-Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Although discrimination against them dates back at least as far as a junta that brought Myanmar under military control in 1962, it has intensified in recent months, with more than 600,000 being displaced and driven into neighboring Bangladesh since August, according to the United Nations.
“If we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse.” — Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Although U.N. officials have stopped short of labeling the situation a genocide, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in September deemed it “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”
A number of local rabbis offered speeches and prayers at the Nov. 8 rally. They included Rabbis Yonah Bookstein of Pico Shul, Jocee Hudson of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom and Jason Fruithandler of Sinai Temple.
“Our voices will not be silent,” Hudson told the crowd. “Our feet will not be still. We will stand. We will march. We will speak.”
Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, also joined the rally.
“We feel the same as the Jewish community, that this is a matter of our religious obligation, of our human conscience,” he told the Journal. “I think that’s what brings us together.”
Bookstein said he keeps up on the crisis in online updates from a friend who volunteers in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“As Jews, we can relate to this as well as anybody,” he told the Journal. “And if we don’t act now, things can get a lot worse — because instead of having the displacement of 600,000 people, we’ll have the death of 600,000 people.”
The Pico Shul rabbi wore his tallis to the rally, a nod to the “religious obligation to stand up and speak out,” he said.
Speakers at the protest told the crowd to urge their representatives in Congress to support Senate Bill 6060[TF1] , the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2017, which would authorize sanctions against Myanmar and offer aid to displaced Rohingyas. (Myanmar was formerly called Burma.)
“We’re going to vote every single one of them out that are against it,” Jarin Islam, a Bangladeshi-born official from the neighborhood council that includes the consulate, told the protesters. “In election season, we will not forget the way you are acting in the Senate and Congress.”
The rally attracted a small group of counterprotesters, who held signs reading, “No Genocide in Myanmar” and chanted, “Stop your Propaganda.”
“We trust our leader, Aung San Suu Kyi,” said one, Aung Khine, an immigrant from Myanmar, referring to the country’s de facto civilian leader. “She would never do that to people.”
But Ahmed told a different story, saying that most Rohingya villages in western Myanmar had been bombed, with the young men killed and the women and children ejected from their homes.
Ahmed said some 10 to 15 Rohingya people live in the Los Angeles area, mostly in Inglewood. He said this is the first time he has seen the Jewish community come out to support the Rohingya cause.
“We don’t know how to thank you,” he told the Journal. “You understand our suffering.”