My former classmate, A, sent me a photo of his baby niece, E, born in mid-October in Khan Younis, a city in Gaza. “We treasure what we have and so far, my family is safe in Khan Younis,” he said in his WhatsApp message. My former classmates and I sent celebrative emojis.
“Precious life, welcome to earth Baby E!” read my message, one of the last on the thread.
The thread has, as we say, been dead since then. As digital decorum goes, this is the expected WhatsApp life cycle of a group of high school classmates after their 20-year reunion — bouts of activity driven by nostalgia, spurred by our one-time reunion, then followed by the quiet that everyday routines and separate lives settle us into.
This silence, however, wasn’t induced by everyday routines dragging us out of mindless text chatter. It was the silence of not knowing what to say, or simply not wanting to know the answers to questions that felt too emotional to contain, especially on a digital platform.
Baby E should be three months old now, but no one dares to ask how she is. We all know by now that Khan Younis is no longer a safe zone, targeted and bombed by Israeli military forces.
The bombings in Gaza have persisted for as long as Baby E has been alive. It feels as hard to say anything about this genocide, as it is to inquire about Baby E’s life.
I have been watching Gaza through the unfiltered lens of Motaz, Bisan and Plestia, young Palestinian citizen journalists who have shown the world what corporate Western media will not — the anguish, the wailings, the colossal destruction from Al Shifa Hospital to Khan Younis to Rafah.
I think of Bisan’s words, that everyone is watching Gaza and no one is stopping it.
How does this end and what needs to change for this to end? How do we measure up to what is expected and so deeply needed for a different future? We have to be brave, and to question our complicity and comfort with the status quo that reproduces a world where this racist violence is normalized and sanctioned.
I am an immigrant of Southeast Asian Chinese descent in America, finding placement, bearing, and community on Coast Salish lands. I find cultural belonging and home in a small and diverse pocket of the Asian community, in the Chinatown International District (CID). It is here that I speak my native tongue, and find others who similarly crave and create home wherever we are.
It is here in the CID, that my dear Cambodian American friend, S, who grew up in Skyway, once thought was where Seattle’s city borders ended. There is something endearing about the way children map the range of their spatial surroundings around feelings of connection and familiarity. Worlds are smaller, and their collapses, more devastating.
It matters to me, then, that my community of Asian Americans, do right by the lives of young children and the futures they should have before them. I wish for my classmate to send me photos of Baby E, and that we mark our subsequent high school reunions with her growth.
“Oh hey, Baby E is 10 years old. It’s been 10 years since our last gathering! Are we waiting till she is 20 to meet again?” I wish this was the banter and ease with which I could speak of Baby E, but it is not.
Safety and belonging should be our birthright, but it is not. A deep anxiety and fear accompany the sense of scarcity and uncertainty many of us experience globally in this era of late stage capitalism, where climate change, land grabs, genocide, and dispossession are prevalent.
Escapades to the moon, or Mars, are a fantasy available only to the most privileged, who will leave us all to eat the proverbial cake after they depart.
For the rest of us, we will either get through these changes together, leaving no one behind, or we perish from the contradictions. Some elders once said, it is socialism or barbarism. Collective liberation is less a fantasy or catch phrase, and more a practical strategy for survival.
A lukewarm solidarity
The silence around the genocide in Gaza has been deafening in the CID. Many of our beloved community institutions have not condemned the unceasing attacks and death toll, nor joined in the calls for humanitarian aid and ceasefire, much less taken a stance on the settler colonialism of historic Palestine.
On Oct. 15, 2023, a 6-year-old Palestinian child was stabbed 26 times to death by his landlord who allegedly yelled, “You Muslims must die.”
A month later, on Nov. 18, 2023, three Palestinian youth were shot while walking around the neighborhood in Burlington, Vermont. One of the youth is now a paraplegic due to the attack.
As of this writing, approximately 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza have died from Israeli bombings funded by the U.S. government, almost 40% of whom are children. The decades-long violence against Palestinians escalates once more, drastically and relentlessly in Gaza, and also domestically in the form of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab violence.
Antisemitism is also on the rise. Synagogues have been attacked, vandalized, and targeted. One can always count on white nationalist and neo-Nazi formations in particular, who would use this moment to further disseminate anti-semitic propaganda and actions.
The right wing Palestine grifters — fascists and neo-Nazis masquerading as pro-Palestinian solidarity supporters — use this opportunity to push forward their own racist agendas.
The silence in the CID broke on Dec. 1, 2023.
Beloved CID community organizations such as Wing Luke Museum and CISC released a public statement on social media decrying hate crimes, presumably in response to the vandalism that had occurred in recent days prior to a synagogue in Mercer Island.
In their statement, the two prominent Asian American organizations in the CID reference their involvement in the #AsianJewishInitiative, alongside Zionist organizations, such as the Anti Defamation League (ADL), sharing their commitment to resisting antisemitism and other forms of hate. This statement lacked larger context, denouncing individual acts of violence without mentioning the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
It appears that the Wing Luke Museum eventually retracted the public statement.
The earnest efforts of our Asian American community members attempts to express solidarity against all forms of hate crimes occur at a time when political debates are heightened, specifically around the weaponization of antisemitism as a way to pathologize, criminalize, and dissuade calls for a permanent ceasefire and humanitarian aid to Gaza.
To offer abstract support without naming the existing settler-colonial context and bloodbath in Palestine, as well as ongoing targeting of Arabs and Muslims within the U.S. in recent months is irresponsible.
Genuine care and concern for Jewish communities would reveal that ongoing occupation and militarism are ineffective tools for seeking safety. They do not make Jewish people safer both in Israel (occupied Palestine) or around the world, exposing them to more antisemitism as well as ongoing militarized state violence.
Anti-Zionism versus antisemitism
Zionism, a political, nationalist ideology adopted by some of Israel’s modern founders, is a movement supporting the establishment of a national state for Jews in historic Palestine.
The establishment of the State of Israel in historic Palestine required the cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population, culminating in the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic. The Nakba marks the mass displacement and genocide of Palestinians in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
While Zionist advocates like the ADL conflate all Jewish identity with Zionism, many Jewish people globally resist the occupation and settler colonialism of Palestine and have been the loudest supporters for the Palestinian struggle.
Organizations such as the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) have long declared that anti-Zionism — resisting the apartheid State of Israel in historic Palestine — is an extension of the liberatory and resilient tradition of Jewish resistance including the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Jewish Labor Bund.
The diversity of political opinions on the State of Israel that exists among Jewish communities, both contemporarily and historically, are constantly erased and attacked.
In addition to the ADL’s reputation for its ongoing support of the apartheid State of Israel, it has established itself as a leader in hate crime legislation as well.
The ADL has a fraught history of supporting the police, and undermining organizing led by Black, immigrant, queer, Muslim, Arab, and other marginalized communities. Drop The ADL, a coalition of many social justice organizations, detail how the organization has “branded itself as a civil rights organization in ways that conceal and legitimize its right wing activities.”
If Zionism was an early 20th century political strategy for the survival and safety of Jewish people through the creation of an ethnostate, but at the expense of the indigenous people of historic Palestine, we are clearly witnessing its brutal cost and untenability.
But this search for safety and belonging, reliance on existing colonial institutions and powers that be, at the expense of other peoples’ suffering, is not unique. We may all be susceptible.
Undoing Asian American Zionism means identifying the ways that our communities are complicit and invested in the logic and persistence of the apartheid State of Israel. It is naming how Asian Americans also perpetuate and normalize the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians; their removal and displacement from their homelands.
Undoing Asian American Zionism, then, requires us to reflect on how our own strategies of survival, healing, and safety are premised on another’s displacement and suffering.
It means undoing how we imagine militarism, occupation, and borders as methods of guaranteeing safety. It asks of us to question how we relate to colonial institutions of power and white supremacy in seeking safety and belonging. What else is possible?
Hate crimes, structural and state violence
The Wing Luke Museum was recently vandalized by a 76-year-old white man who was yelling racial slurs as he smashed the windows of the museum with a sledgehammer.
Around the same time, a spate of robberies took place in South Seattle, appearing to target Asian elders and homeowners. Since the onset of COVID-19 and the rising legitimization of the far right in mainstream society, acts of anti-Asian violence have escalated. This trend is not isolated from the general increase in bias-related incidents in the country.
The intersection of COVID-19, immigration crackdown, ongoing austerity, and a racist political establishment in the U.S., creates fertile ground for the rise of white nationalism and attacks on marginalized and vulnerable populations, including LGBTQ+, Black and Brown, Jewish, and immigrant communities.
Hate crimes are increasingly used as a framework to measure and address the uptick in racialized violence across the U.S.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines “hate crime” as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”
This framework utilizes a carceral approach to address these acts of violence, thus exacerbating the existing racial disparities and phenomenon of mass incarceration in the process. In fact, reports show that Black people are disproportionately charged with hate crime offenses.
The mainstream adoption of addressing anti-Asian violence through a hate crime framework brings us into close proximity with ideologies that the ADL advances.
Like the ADL, the hate crime framework encourages Asian Americans to rely on the carceral system — the police, courts, and prisons — to create a false sense of safety. It also presents the state as an arbiter of justice, thereby distracting us from the structural violence it perpetuates.
A few weeks prior to the vandalism in Canton Alley that left community members distressed and afraid, Seattle Police Department officer Daniel Auderer, vice president of the Seattle Police Guild, was caught on dashcam video mocking the death of 23-year-old Jaahnavi Kandula by a fellow officer. He referenced a possible “$11,000” payout for her death, and declared amidst chuckles that she had “limited value anyway.”
The unfiltered racist statements of police officers remain shocking, but not more so than the actual instances of police killings and brutality against communities of color. The same FBI that tracks hate crime data reportedly undercounts instances of police killings.
Why is state violence overlooked in our understanding of bias-related harm and destruction? Hate crime legislation and statutes individualize and decontextualize the settings in which this violence takes place.
Rather than identifying that the uptick in violence and lack of safety as rooted in structural causes like gentrification, police presence, poverty, and austerity, a hate crime framework instead makes us focus on individual acts of violence rather than the structural environment. It absolves the state’s complicity in creating harmful conditions.
The police and the legal system — long known for their racism and oppression of poor, working class people of all races, are now the authority on our safety and wellbeing.
In the CID, we experience poverty, precarity, and insecurity throughout our everyday lives. Our genuine concerns are twisted and touted as calls for more policing, or as part of opportunistic chess moves by aspiring politicians seeking power in a mayoral regime that prioritizes encampment sweeps over services.
There are other ways to imagine safety. The Zionist example reveals the devastating contradictions and casualty count of militarism and colonialism. The reliance on hate crime legislation, on carceral solutions, reveals its own limitations. How else can we pursue a sense of safety and belonging in a world that is increasingly polarized and militarized?
Collective liberation as a safety framework
The Jewish Labor Bund was a movement of non-Zionist Jewish socialists who advocated for the concept of doikayt, Yiddish for “here-ness.”
Founded in Poland in 1897, Bund members believed in internationalism, and the necessity of fighting for progressive ideals wherever they were.
Rather than placing their dreams of homeland in historic Palestine, the Jewish bund members saw themselves as place-based diasporic people with a distinct culture. Their motto was: “There, where we live, that is our country.”
We can draw from this legacy of seeking safety and belonging through struggle and solidarity, over the false promise of safety that the empire and its tentacles offer.
Collective liberation shows up as socialism, as internationalism, and the long tradition of progressive movements that value unity and solidarity, while honoring the specificity of each communities’ struggles and identity.
It is not an individual burglary, or an individual instance of anti-Asian violence, that makes us throw down the gauntlet.
It is the totality of what is happening here — the school-to-prison pipeline, the gentrification, the evictions, the encampment sweeps, the shrinking of the social safety net, the cuts to essential social services to plug the budget shortfall, the increase in mental health crises — and how these factors contribute to the suffering that surrounds us.
Collective liberation is in challenging the notion that the violence we encounter as Asian Americans is exceptional. Rather, it is the reality of living in a nation that is a product of genocide and slavery. The American Dream sold to us was a delusion.
A shared investment in the hate crime framework — its carceral and harmful nature, its perpetuation of racial disparities and mass incarceration — does not have to be the basis of alliance and solidarity between Asian and Jewish communities. We can find safety, belonging, and connection with each other, along with Black, Brown, Indigenous, and immigrant communities equally seeking the same things. It is our birthright.
I know my Asian American counterparts who believe in a free Palestine are many, too, and we do exist. Many believe, as I do, the adage that Black feminist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore gifts us with: “Where life is precious, life is precious.”
May we build worlds where precious life is valued.
May Palestine be free, from the river to the sea.
*JM would like to thank their community and friends who supported this piece with edits, feedback, and by being role models with their commitments towards anti racism and Palestine solidarity organizing.