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Boat People Rally at UN

Ten thousand people gathered at the United Nations today for a rally on behalf of the “boat people”. The rally, organized by the Committee Against Genocide by Vietnam, was co-sponsored by the coalition of more than 100 Chinese American, Jewish, Christian and civic groups.

The Jewish community was represented by Martin Begun, a national officer of the American Jewish Congress and vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. Begun referred to the thousands of Jewish refugees during World War 11 who were refused haven from the death camps of Nazi Germany. “They were forced to return to the Holocaust in Europe, and death,” Begun said. “It seems incredible that the world has such a short memory.”

Analogies to the Holocaust were the theme of the rally. Speakers such as Donald McAvoy, vice president of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and Reps. William Green (R. NY) and Ted Weiss (D. NY) recalled the similarities between the genocide committed by Germany to that of the Vietnamese actions today McAvoy noted, “We failed the test of humanity during World War 11. This is a second chance for humanity and we dare not fail again.”

One of the most stirring speakers was Bayard Rustin, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and a prominent civil rights leader. Rustin, exhorting the audience to condemn Vietnam for its “shame” in the wholesale expulsion of the largely Chinese ethnic population of Vietnam, added that the probable result of the rally’s appeal to the United Nations will result in further inaction on the organization’s part. “Not a damn thing will happen,” he warned. “Shame on Japan for taking in only 10 refugees. Shame on the so-called world democracies” for doing nothing.

Rustin made an appeal to the United States government, “if the United States has to take them all-take them.” He later led the crowd in the famous civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome,” as the rally proceeded on a march through mid-town Manhattan.

Other speakers included Stephen Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights at the State Department, bearing a message of support from President Carter; Richard Kuo, Deputy to Mayor Edward Koch, with a proclamation of today as “Indachinese Refugee Day”; Bishop James Wetmore, of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; Elizabeth Holtzman (D. NY); Chien Shlung Wo, Professor of Physics at Columbia University; and Kenneth Mei, president, National Association of Chinese Americans, New York Chapter.

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