Chamath Palihapitiya is a household name — at least in the kind of houses featured in the Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Mansion” section.
Born in Sri Lanka in 1976, he immigrated with his family to Canada when he was five. At the tender age of 28, he became an AOL vice president in California. He moved on to a promising new startup called Facebook one year later. Today, he’s a billionaire venture capitalist who shares his home with an Italian heiress and model.
Good for him. And good for us to be reminded that America remains a land of opportunity, not least for people of color and immigrants. But he’s in the news this month for a different reason.
On a podcast he co-hosts, he commented on what the U.S. government and others (e.g., Britain and the French parliament just a few days ago) have recognized as the “genocide” of the Uyghurs, a Turkic and Muslim people in Xinjiang, a central Asian land ruled by Beijing.
“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK?” Mr. Palihapitiya told his co-host. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you really care. The rest of us don’t care.”
A little historical context: After World War II and the Holocaust, world leaders vowed that in the new international order they were constructing, genocide, that most heinous of crimes, would be prevented or, failing that, punished.
The Genocide Convention was the U.N. General Assembly’s first human rights treaty. Adopted 71 years ago this month, it “signified the international community’s commitment to ‘never again’” and was declared a norm of “customary international law and therefore binding on all States,” according to an official U.N. statement.
Despite that, genocides have been carried out in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Darfur. More than 500,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 12 million displaced during what the U.S. Holocaust Museum calls “a decade of crimes against humanity.” In all these instances, the U.N. and the “international community” have responded fecklessly.
This pattern continues. More than a million Uyghurs are believed to be incarcerated in “reeducation camps” and prisons. Others are reportedly subject to forced labor, with women tortured, sexually abused and forcibly sterilized. China’s rulers also are strangling Tibet’s unique culture and religion.
Not only do Hollywood moguls, superstar athletes such as LeBron James, and titans of capitalism such as Mr. Palihapitiya not care, but they also profit from business relations with Beijing. Yet they have the chutzpah to portray themselves as champions of “social justice.”
Two anniversaries give these matters heightened relevance. The first: Jan. 20, the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. Wannsee is the lakeside resort near Berlin where 15 senior Nazi officials met to formally pass a death sentence on the Jews of Europe and more efficiently organize the already ongoing slaughters. A lovely breakfast was served.
The Nazis imprisoned Jews before murdering them. Why didn’t they keep them alive and use them as slave laborers in their war effort? The most plausible explanation is that the Nazis’ hatred for Jews was so intense that they rejected that more economical option.
Matthias Kuntzel, a Hamburg-based political scientist, has pointed out that, before the Wannsee Conference, Hitler promised Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, and the preeminent leader of Palestinian Arabs, that the Jews of the Middle East also would be exterminated as soon as feasible.
After the war, Mr. Kuntzel notes, the Muslim Brotherhood defended “the alliance between el-Husseini and Hitler” and went on to build “the world’s largest antisemitic movement.” The Brotherhood then “passed on the baton” to a fiery Iranian cleric who would lead the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Since then, the theocratic regime founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has pursued “the project begun by Hitler and the Mufti.”
The second anniversary: Jan. 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the date the Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated in 1945. Last week, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution intended to combat Holocaust denial on social media. Iran’s rulers opposed it.
In other words, Iran’s rulers deny the genocide of Europe’s Jewish communities in the 20th century while threatening a 21st-century genocide of the only viable and thriving Jewish community in the Middle East. Inscribed on Iranian missiles: “Israel must be wiped from the face of the earth.”
Since Iran’s rulers claim to be leaders of the Muslim world, you might expect them — unlike Mr. Palihapitiya — to care about the Uyghurs. But they do not. The most plausible explanation is that they have a revolutionary commitment to “Death to America!” They are counting on China’s rulers to help them pursue that goal.
On his podcast, Mr. Palihapitiya said he was “not even sure that China is a dictatorship” and that “at the end of the day, I don’t think that I have the moral absolutism to judge China.”
Elaborating on why he thinks Uyghur lives don’t matter, he said he was more concerned with supply chain issues, climate change, the incarceration rate for men of color in the United States, and America’s “crippled” health care system.
“If you want to talk about the human rights of people, I think we have a responsibility to take care of our own backyard first,” he added.
There were Americas in the last century who took that view. Had they prevailed, World War II would have had a different outcome.
Is it not curious that the ideology espoused back then by far-right isolationists is being echoed now by elite figures on the fashionably woke left? And is it not a sad commentary on our times that, for so many people, “never again!” has become “never mind”?
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.