With the outbreak of the COVID-19 “coronavirus,” there has been an additional side effect alongside the maladies of the virus: the rise of xenophobia towards Chinese-American and Chinese communities. Indeed, misplaced fears over the virus have led to a decrease in traffic to Chinese-owned businesses — and a rise of online attacks aimed at the Chinese community.
Against this backdrop of xenophobia, we were pleased to see our parent organization, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, organize a letter of solidarity and support for the Chinese-American and Chinese communities.
This letter of solidarity, provided in English and in Mandarin, expressed our shared concerns over prejudice, saying in part, “We know that in such times, concern can quickly turn into hysteria, which can lead to scapegoating. We pledge to help ensure that Chinese people feel safe and supported, and to combat attacks and stereotyping on social media. We know from history, ours and yours, that such fearmongering can be devastating.”
Furthermore, the letter highlighted the common values shared by the Chinese and Jewish communities in America. Together, we pledge to uphold those ideals in relation to the Chinese-American community.
Both the JCRC and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix signed on to this letter of solidarity, alongside over 70 other Jewish agencies across the nation, as well as the rabbinical organizations of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism in the United States.
The response from the Chinese community was truly heartening and inspiring. Fred Teng, President of America China Public Affairs Institute, stated,
“We want to thank our partners in the Jewish community for their solidarity and friendship...We stand together for truth and fairness, and against the spread of false and damaging information.”
From United Chinese Americans, President Haipei Shue and Chairman Xiaoyan Zhang responded, “Shalom Aleichem… Thank you, our Jewish brothers and sisters, for your solidarity with our community at this difficult time. Your words and action has warmed our heart and lifted our spirit! ... A Chinese proverb says that crisis or suffering tells who is your real friend.”
In China, the Chinese international broadcast outlet China Daily and international broadcasting service Xinhua reported on the Jewish community’s solidarity letter, while the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, hosted JCPA President David Bernstein at the Chinese Embassy in Washington in a reception greeted by a throng of Chinese media outlets.
Locally, the JCRC of Greater Phoenix shared the letter with the Phoenix Chinese community, including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Arizona, the Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Arizona. We also distributed the letter to local Chinese newspapers and television outlets, including the Asian-American Times, the Arizona Chinese News, Phoenix Chinese Press and Arizona Chinese TV.
The response from the Phoenix Chinese community was that of genuine appreciation for the local Jewish community’s support.
John Lee, the President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Arizona sent a letter in response back that stated, “I was thrilled to read the above letter and am deeply appreciative of your timely support when Chinese communities across the US are experiencing difficulties and discrimination due to the rapid spread of the dangerous coronavirus. Only true friends show up in hard times.
“The Chinese and Jewish communities share many common values such as family, education, entrepreneurship, etc. The long-lasting friendship between our communities may be traced as far back as World War II, when Chinese families in Shanghai opened their doors to tens of thousands of European Jews escaping Nazi persecution. From the start, there was a friendship and warmth among our communities, and it is my honor to continue that here in Phoenix, Arizona.”
While the world’s doctors and researchers race to find a cure for the virus, solidarity remains the best antidote to COVID-19’s xenophobia. JN
Paul Rockower is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix.