Against the Yellowwashing of Israel

This essay by Candace Fujikane, an Associate Professor of English at the University of screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-12-21-45-amHawaiʻi, 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)

Zionists narrate Inouye’s support for the state of Israel as driven by the twinned histories of the internment of Japanese Americans and the internment of Jews. (Solomon).  But Zionist narratives go well beyond the resonances between concentration camps in their celebration of Inouye’s heroism on the battlefield against anti-Semitism.  Douglas Bloomfield, legislative director of AIPAC, tells us that Inouye was named by the people of Israel “Trumpeldor” after a champion of Zionism who fought against Arabs in 1920 over the settlement of Tel Hai, a battle which has since taken on mythic proportions as the event marking the inception of the state of Israel:

[Inouye’s] integrity, his quiet modesty, his firm belief in bipartisan cooperation won him the admiration and trust of his Senate colleagues and all who knew him.  Nowhere more than among the supporters and people of Israel, where he was affectionately nicknamed “Trumpeldor” for the one-armed early Zionist hero.  Joseph Trumpeldor, who died in the 1920 battle of Tel Hai in the Upper Galilee, had lost his left arm in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904: Inouye lost his right arm in Italy in the closing days of World War II.   For his heroism, Lt. Inouye was awarded the Medal of Honor, but it took 55 years to get that recognition because Japanese-American Nisei servicemen were denied appropriate recognition for their heroism at the time because of their race. (Bloomfield) (5)

Inouye has long been criticized for the ways in which he has promoted US federal recognition of a Native Hawaiian governing entity in a way that has actually obstructed Hawaiians’ efforts at restoring Hawaiʻi’s independence. What Inouye supported was federal recognition of Hawaiʻi as a nation-within-a-nation that would allow Hawaiians sovereignty only insofar as Hawaiʻi remained a domestic dependency under the US Department of the Interior.  Inouye advocated for a contained form of sovereignty that would not pose any significant challenge to the foundations of the US settler state nor its occupation of Hawaiʻi.  Federal recognition, as American Indian, First Nations, and Kanaka ‘Ōiwi scholar activists have argued, is yet another way for the United States to consolidate its settler state power and to further the processes of land accumulation by dispossession. See for example, Glen S. Coulthard, “Subjects of Empire: Indigneous People and the ʻPolitics of Recognition’ in Canada,” Contemporary Political Theory 6 (2007): 437-460; Red Skins, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Audra Simpson, Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life across the Borders of Settler States (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014). (8-9)

As I have argued in this essay, our work in Asian American studies against settler colonialism in the occupied Palestinian territories must also consider the broader contexts of settler colonialism across settler states and the ways that the United States’ own operations of settler colonialism articulate with those of the Israeli settler state.  By analyzing the mutually constitutive modalities of settler colonialisms in a global context, we can better trace how a historical figure like Daniel Inouye has not only been circulated by settler states in the global imaginary but also how his material support for settler states reminds us of the ways that settler colonialism is constitutive of our positionalities as Asian Americans.  Decolonial and international solidarities, however, are also constitutive of Asian American positionalities.  Examining the limits of Asian American critique offers us new possibilities for genuine decolonial futures in the United States and in Israel and Palestine. (15-16)