This essay by Candace Fujikane, an Associate Professor of English at the University of Hawaiʻi, traces the circuits of yellowwashing narratives representing U.S. aid to Israel through the historical figure and substance of Inouye. Through a critical analysis of such yellowwashing, the paper considers the articulations of the US settler state with the Israeli settler state and the ways they are mutually constitutive. The yellowwashing of Israel opens up another dimension to these color washings: as Israel circulated the figure of Inouye, the substance of Inouye’s actions make evident the ways that US settler colonialism is constitutive of Inouye’s positionality as a Japanese American. Fujikane then foregrounds what has been erased in these displacements: Palestinian political agency under deadly Israeli assault. In contrast to the state-sponsored color washings of Israel, the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement has enabled broader alliances in an international movement to end Israeli apartheid.
Candace Fujikane is Associate Professor of English at the University of Hawaiʻi. She co-edited with Jonathan Okamura Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habits of Everyday Life in Hawaiʻi. Her work has been published in the American Quarterly, Amerasia Journal, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Asian American Studies After Critical Mass and a special issue of Marvels and Tales entitled Rooted in Wonder: Tales of Indigenous Activism and Community Organizing. She is currently working on her book manuscript Mapping Abundance: Indigenous and Critical Settler Cartography in Hawaiʻi.
She presented a version of this essay at the 2016 MLA conference in Austin, Texas on a panel entitled “Displaced Subjects: Asian American Studies and Palestine” with Lisa Lowe, Rajini Srikanth and Cathy Schlund-Vials. An expanded version of the paper is forthcoming in a collection edited by Cathy J. Schlund-Vials entitled Flashpoints for Asian American Studies.
Below are excerpts of the paper. Click this link to download a pdf of the paper: Yellowwashing
We can track the yellowwashing of Israel in the ways that the state of Israel and American Zionist lobbyists have produced and circulated a narrative of Israeli alliances with Asian Americans through the figure of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. At the time of Inouye’s death in December 2012, former AIPAC president Robert Asher advised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should act to honor Inouye’s memory (Solomon). In January of 2014, Israel announced that it would name its missile facility the Daniel K. Inouye Arrow Anti-Missile Defense Facility after the Hawaiʻi-based senator. (3)
In June, 2016 a group of six MLA members traveled together to the West Bank and Israel to find out what it was like for Palestinian academics and students trying to study, teach, and research at universities in the occupied territories and within Israel itself. In addition to learning about academic conditions under occupation, the group also wanted to hear directly from Palestinian scholars and students about their thoughts on the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. They also met with a number of Jewish Israeli leftwing academics and activists to hear about the opportunities for change from within the regime. In the course of their eight day trip the group met with undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and university administrators at six universities in the occupied West Bank — Birzeit University in Ramallah, Bethlehem University, An-Najah University in Nablus, Palestinian Technical University–Kadoorie in Tulkarm, and Hebron University – as well as both Palestinian and Jewish academics and students from a number of Israeli universities. The report includes a detailed account of how Palestinian education has been undermined by Israeli checkpoints, impediments to travel, obstacles to getting materials, raids on campuses, arrests, denial of entry to foreign faculty, and restrictions on research. It also addresses the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation and the unequal treatment of Palestinian faculty and students in Israel. The report presents the positions of Palestinians and Israelis on the academic movement, making a convincing case for an MLA resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Included here are selected excerpts from the report. Click the link below to download a pdf of the complete 23 page report.
David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, recently posted the open letter below on the MLA Commons. Palumbo-Liu is currently on the Executive Committee of the MLA. He is the founding editor of the e-journal, Occasion: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities and a Contributing Editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books. He writes for Truthout‘s Public Intellectual Project, and he has published in Salon,The Nation, AlterNet,The Guardian,and other venues. He founded and directs the Teaching Human Rights Collaboratory.
Open Letter to MLA Members: Why Consider Palestine Now? Aren’t There More Important Things to Worry About?
I write not as a member of the Executive Council but as an individual member of the MLA. As you know, at our January meeting the Delegate Assembly will be voting on resolutions regarding Israel-Palestine. We have had some time now to hear the arguments from both sides. I will not rehearse those arguments but rather ask you to look carefully at the statements each group has made and their supporting documents. I wish to use this space to address a related issue—it is the question of whether or not the MLA, at this particularly dangerous moment in our nation’s history (and that of the world), should even address the issue of injustice in Israel-Palestine, especially as it regards academic freedom, the right to education, and larger issues of human rights.
The New York Review of Books is not known as a venue for the venting of debates on Israel-Palestine, but that is exactly what happened last October. Two statements were issued that outline a dramatic liberal Zionist break with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the inability of these same liberal Zionists to address the actual roots of the occupation.
It has long been the case that Israel sought to undermine Palestinian civil society by attacking its educational institutions. “In 2007, Al Jazeera’s Witness strand commissioned a special series, Two Schools in Nablus, from filmmakers Tom Evans and George Azar, which documented the extraordinary daily struggle of getting and delivering an education under the constant threat of violence and intimidation.” Recently, as part of its REWIND, Al Jazeera “updates some of the channel’s most memorable and award-winning documentaries of the past decade. We find out what happened to some of the characters in those films and ask how their stories have changed in the years since our cameras left.”
In October 2016, The New York Review of Books published a statement calling for an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements. Over 70 American intellectuals signed the statement, which endorses the politics of boycott in response to Israeli settlement policy in the Occupied Territories. But the statement stops with the settlements and does not address Israel’s responsibility for the settlements or the draconian measures used by Israel to control, police and punish the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Israel. Writing for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah noted that “This is precisely the kind of attempt to co-opt the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that Columbia University professor Joseph Massad cautions about in a 2014 article for The Electronic Intifada: liberal Zionists aim to redefine and redirect the movement’s strength and efforts towards preserving, instead of challenging, Israel as a racist, apartheid and colonial state.”
In a letter to the editor which appeared in the NYRB (included below), another group of American intellectuals committed to Palestinian solidarity have challenged the limited statement supporting a boycott of only the settlements, and reasserted the Palestinian call for Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS).
David Simpson is Distinguished Professor of English at University of California, Davis; he received the G. B. Needham Endowed Chair in English in 2008. He previously he taught at Columbia, University of Colorado, Northwestern University, and Cambridge. He is a member of the editorial boards of Cambridge Studies in Romanticism and Modern Language Quarterly. Simpson is the author of numerous books, including Situatedness; or Why we Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From (Duke U P, 2002), 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (U of Chicago P, 2006); Wordsworth, Commodification, and Social Concern: The Poetics of Modernity (Cambridge U P, 2009); and Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger (U of Chicago P, 2013). He has received numerous scholarly awards, and in 2016, he became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science. In summer 2016, he traveled to the West Bank.
Sign the “Open Letter” calling on the MLA membership to endorse a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Only the signatures of (former or current) MLA members will be included.
I have just returned from my first trip to Israel-Palestine. I went as a committed supporter of the BDS campaign, so yes, I was predisposed to feel judgmental. And even during a period of relative calm, with the IDF in (mostly) stand-down mode for Ramadan, the atmosphere of oppression was palpable. I will spare you numerous anecdotes of and insights into the mechanisms of occupation, from the relatively petty to the outright fatal. Suffice it to say that there is no significant freedom for Palestinians, either in Israel or in the West Bank (Gaza was of course off limits: no one can get in or out except illegally and at real personal risk). And without basic freedom there is no academic freedom, which is after all what we scholars are supposed to care about. The nuts and bolts of day to day oppression and persecution will be the topic of another narrative. Vividly as they were brought home to me, they are not news to those who have been following the situation with any attention.
. . . no one said anything to suggest that the decisions of academic groups like the MLA were other than extremely important. They are watched especially closely by the Palestinians, and are taken as tangible evidence that the situation of Palestinian scholars is not forgotten, that they are still regarded as members of an international academic community . . .
Here I want to write not about what confirmed, over and over again, and made more visceral and immediate what I already knew from the recounted lives of others, but what surprised me. I came to realize that I have been functioning with a not uncommon cynicism about how much (i.e. how little) it matters that armchair activists thousands of miles away are trying to draw attention to the plight of faculty and students seeking to pursue first and higher degrees and minimally flourishing careers in conditions of coercive, racist oppression and outright violence. Who really cares, I have been thinking to myself, if the good folk of the MLA do or do not pass a resolution in support of BDS? What difference will it make, in a world governed by ruthless neoliberal values and an international security industry to which the Israeli government has hugely contributed and from which it continues to profit, if a few humanities professors bang their shoes on the table and express polite dissent? I had felt a strong obligation to support BDS, but had no clear sense of its impact or likely success. I felt I was doing the right thing, but very much for its own sake.