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Attempt to pressure China on Darfur loses to the Olympics

Jewish groups have taken lead roles in drawing attention to China's policies and specifically sought to spotlight the country's record in advance of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Yet it appears as if China will suffer no significant international sanction when the games open Aug. 8

by Ben Harris

July 23, 2008 | 2:34 am

Sudan's president may soon be the target of an arrest warrant for the killings in Darfur, and Iran was blasted by the United States and Europe for testing the missiles it threatens to fire at Israel. But the international player accused of complicity in both developments appears to be getting a pass.

China has used its veto powers in the U.N. Security Council to block strong international action against the regimes in Tehran and Khartoum and has thrown them lifelines by continuing oil and arms trade, despite Western attempts at isolation.

Jewish groups have taken lead roles in drawing attention to China's policies and specifically sought to spotlight the country's record in advance of this summer's Olympic Games in Beijing. Yet it appears as if China will suffer no significant international sanction when the games open Aug. 8.

President Bush will be on hand for the opening ceremony, despite calls from the American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that he stay home. Joining Bush will be Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has said that a nuclear Iran would be "a nightmare" and that international unity, which China has played a key role in blocking, could make military action unnecessary.

Calls for boycotts of the Olympics, some with comparisons to Nazi Germany's hosting of the 1936 Berlin games, also have been rejected by mainstream Jewish organizations. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee both warned that challenging Beijing during the Olympics would not produce the anticipated results.

"The only thing that can affect China is the big Western powers in unison, but they will never do that," said Raphael Israeli, a professor of Islamic and Chinese history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Only then would the Chinese do something as a gesture. They can absorb a lot if they don't have to do anything practical."

Just a few months ago, the value of the Olympics as a showcase for China's exploding economic power seemed in danger of running aground. In addition to reports questioning the quality of Beijing's air for elite athletes, some tried to brand the games the "Genocide Olympics" because of Chinese ties with Sudan.

Jewish filmmaker Steven Spielberg withdrew as an artistic adviser to the games, saying "conscience will not allow me to continue with business as usual." Riots in Chinese-occupied Tibet led Elie Wiesel to organize fellow Nobel laureates to protest China's brutal crackdown. In addition, a group of 185 Jewish leaders, mostly rabbis, called on Jewish tourists to stay away from Beijing.

As the Olympics draw closer, however, even activists are quietly admitting they are likely to go off without much of a hitch.

"It's been frustrating," said Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, "because it doesn't appear we're being listened to."

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