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Justice for “Comfort Women” is justice for Palestinian resistance: A call of conscience for our communities

Tomomi Kinukawa | March 29, 2024 | Originally published in Mondoweiss

On the 148th day of Israel’s unfolding genocide and the 76th year of the ongoing Nakba, this Op-Ed, which is grounded in collaboration among Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, Director of Arab Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies at San Francisco State University, and leaders of the transnational “Comfort Women” justice movement, calls on our transnational movements and communities to condemn the governments of Israel, the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and all other complicit states and actors whose hands are covered with Palestinian blood, including US-based Zionist organizations, mainstream media, and university administrations, for their collusion with and enabling of Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people. 

The “Comfort Women” justice movement stands in solidarity with the Palestinian anti-colonial liberation movement against “imperialism, settler colonialism, racism and apartheid–a wholesale systematic design by the Israeli regime to erase Palestine from the map and eradicate the Palestinian people.” As Dr. Abdulhadi maintained,

Both nonviolent resistance—for instance, the Great March of Return in 2018, BDS, strikes, and popular committees—and armed struggle—from the 1920s to the present—have been met with severe colonial violence, collective punishment and indiscriminate killings. Today, the cost of resistance is clear, and is felt deeply. But the Palestinian people are aware, as do all oppressed people, that only resistance in all its forms leads to freedom, liberation and return.

The transnational movement against Japan’s imperialism, settler colonialism, fascism, and denialism categorically rejects the misuse of the movement by Zionist organizations, such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, ADL, AJC, AIPAC, JCRC, and Hillel, who deliberately engage in legitimizing Israel’s genocide and settler colonialism and criminalizing Teaching Palestine. For example, at press conferences in Japan, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, promoted their project against what they call “digital terrorism” and attacked the BDS movement, while alleging that they support the redress movement for victims of Japan’s colonial and war-time crimes. For another example, ADL and AJC requested the Japanese American Citizens League to support their racist campaign to repeal the UN resolution that condemned Zionism as racism, in exchange with their support for redress for Japanese American incarceration during WWII. There is no place in this movement for Zionist organizations or any actors that spread hate and cover up Israel’s genocide. The anti-colonial justice movement must protect itself from being tarnished by Zionism. Instead, this movement continues to fulfill the commitment to speak the truth while listening to and learning from Palestinian siblings in the spirit of what Dr. Abdulhadi called the indivisibility of justice. People’s truth speaks louder than settler colonialism and denialism for Palestine and “comfort women.”

Women’s unions and grassroots movements inside historic Palestine and in exile called out the “anti-Palestinian colonial western establishment, in tandem with its deeply racist and dehumanizing media,” which rejected Palestinian and global calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and an end to Israel’s siege and genocide against the Palestinian people. The Western establishment, including its non-Western colluders, not only continues to finance and arm Israel, but also commits what the Kashmir Scholars Consultative and Action Network has called “epistemicide”—to punishing, targeting, and murdering Palestinian intellectuals, cultural workers, journalists, educators, and their families while demolishing schools, hospitals, theaters, libraries, places of worship, and sacred burial sites. Using the most extreme measures, Israel denies Palestinians what Professor Edward Said called “permission to narrate.”

As part of their “epistemicide,” Israel and its apologists have also consistently used imagery of Gaza as a woman who should be violated by Israeli military commanders and political leaders, and have deployed pinkwashing and purplewashing to label Palestinians as exceptionally misogynist and homophobic. Feminist Solidarity Network For Palestine has documented how Israel and its partners in crime, including mainstream media, have manufactured “consent for genocide” by invoking “Orientalist cultural tropes” of “native savagery” that “depict the Arab/Muslim male as a terrorist-rapist in order to fuel racial fantasies.” In its incisive critique of the New York Times article “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7” (December 28, 2023), the Feminist Network showed that the article not only violated journalistic standards of evidence but reverberated with the colonial rapist myth of criminalizing resistance, while simultaneously normalizing and covering up Israel’s own colonial violence, including rampant sexual violence against Palestinian men, women, and queer and trans people. 

II. Colonial Roots of Japan’s Collusion with Israel

In the same way that Namibia critiqued Germany for siding with Israel at the ICJ and failing to learn from its own genocide and colonial aggression against the Namibian people, the Japanese government’s ongoing collusion with Israel and the United States has deep colonial roots. The US-led imperial forces that have granted impunity to Japan’s imperialism, settler colonialism, and fascism since Japan’s defeat in 1945 are the very forces that are fueling Israel’s ongoing genocide. In fact, work by Japanese Christian Zionist imperialists, including Kanzo Uchiura and Tadao Yanaihara, who considered Zionism as an ideal model for their supposedly “scientific” legitimization of Japan’s brutal colonialism and racism, continued to influence Japanese international studies at elite institutions such as the University of Tokyo after the defeat. The US-led imperial establishment let Japan continue its settler colonialism against Okinawans, Ainus, Zainichi Koreans and Chinese, and Buraku communities in the context of US-led Cold War imperialism in Asia. Japan continues to act with impunity from almost all of its colonial and war-time crimes. Many war criminals accepted elite positions in postwar Japan, while corporations that profited from exploitation of and violence against colonized and enslaved laborers were allowed to maintain their monopolies. Since the end of World War II, the Japanese government and allied forces have colluded in their attempts to suppress and silence fierce anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-caste, liberation, redress, labor, and other justice movements led by Zainichi Koreans, Buraku, Okinawans, Ainu, and Japanese anti-imperialist far left, communists, and labor. 

Dehumanization of the colonized, criminalization of anti-colonial resistance, and the colonial rapist myth were also used to normalize and cover up the Japanese imperial military’s colonial violence, including gendered and sexualized violence. During the Kanto massacre, which took place after the great Kanto earthquake in 1923, for example, Japanese imperial government, police, military, and vigilantes slaughtered and raped Koreans, Chinese, socialists, and anyone mistaken for Koreans and Chinese. While demonizing anti-colonial resistance, the Japanese government, police, and media spread unfounded rumors of Koreans attacking, murdering, and raping Japanese, to legitimize their own heinous violence. In the following decades, the Japanese imperial military went on to commit the Nanjing massacre and other massacres in Asia and the Pacific, including in Okinawa. To this day, fear of another Kanto massacre is very real for Zainichi Koreans. Fabricated rumors of Zainichi Koreans or “foreigners” attacking Japanese circulate via the internet after every natural disaster. Those rumors reflect and escalate racism in Japan, which continues to criminalize Zainichi Koreans and punish their/our anti-colonial and anti-racist resistance, including ethnic Korean schools in Japan. A video that went viral in 2013 shows a Japanese high school student screaming for “Tsuruhashi massacre” in Tsuruhashi, a neighborhood where many Zainichi Koreans reside. 

Between 1932 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of women were sexually enslaved by Japan’s state-sanctioned and institutionalized so-called “Comfort Women” system. In 1991, survivors of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (“Comfort Women” system) courageously broke their silence and demanded a formal legally bound apology and redress from the Japanese government. Most victims from Asia and the Pacific were “missing and murdered,” because of Japan’s refusal to engage in a good faith formal investigation of the war crime. Hundreds of  “Comfort Women” survivors, including Indigenous and Muslim women, have come forward to describe the daily gang rapes, torture, and slaughter that these women endured.  

Those survivor-resisters, whom we fondly refer to as our “grandmothers,” have repeatedly refused to accept the terms set by Japan, which has never formally apologized but instead has continued to deny and distort memories, testimonies, and other evidence. Through its global publicity campaign, the government also sought to legitimize its denialism through educational institutions and research centers in Japan, the United States and beyond. The “Comfort Women” memorial that we built in San Francisco’s Chinatown played a critical role in countering the smear campaign and preserving grandmothers’ narratives in the Asian Diaspora. The memorial was successful only because of persistent activism and advocacy. That is why the justice movement for “Comfort Women” can’t be silent about Palestine.

III. Against Collusion between Zionists and Japanese Denialists

As a community that has championed justice-centered pedagogy against Japan’s historical denialism, we condemn the US-led imperial forces’ “epitemicide” and “consent for genocide” against Palestinians. We have critiqued Japan’s “organized, official distortion and denialism” in a “systematic attempt at permanent erasure of WWII-era atrocities … spearheaded by Japan’s highest levels of government and the Prime Minister himself.” The Japanese far-right government’s official denialism lies at the heart of the government’s direct and indirect support for Israel’s legitimization of genocide and its criminalization of Palestinian resistance. In defensive response against powerful third-world left solidarity with Palestine in the 1960s and 1970s, US-based Zionist organizations penetrated anticolonial and redress movements for the sole purpose of legitimizing Israel’s settler colonialism, Zionism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab and anti-Palestine racism. This included Zionists’ “support” for movements against Japanese imperialism and denialism. During the administration of Shinzo Abe, the far-right denialist prime minister of Japan, however, Zionists stopped their critique of Japanese denialism in exchange for not only Japan’s increased armed trades with Israel, but also Abe’s buying into the Zionist weaponization of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust for legitimizing Israel’s settler colonialism. In 2015, for example, Abe visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. After his visits, the Times of Israel wrote, “Abe has been criticized for appearing to minimize Japan’s own atrocities during the war, particularly the forced sexual enslavement of up to 200,000 ‘comfort women’ from Korea and China… His visit to the Holocaust Memorial may help quell some of that criticism.” Zionists’ change of mind proves how hollow their gesture for solidarity with redress and justice movements against Japanese imperialism in the past is.

Zionists and the Japanese government also colluded with each other in their attempt to legitimize their denialism and racist ideologies as allegedly academic research. For example, the Hudson Institute, a Zionist and a white-supremacist right-wing think tank, promotes Islamophobia and anti-Arab and anti-Palestine racism through its so-called research. The institute gave an award to Shinzo Abe. In turn, Abe funded the “Japan Chair” for the institute, which promotes denialist and racist research. Supporting the Chair reflected and reinforced Abe’s interest in expanding Japan’s collusion with Israel’s military industry, which has exported military, apartheid, and surveillance technologies used against Palestinians, to imperialist states all over the world for their repression of Indigenous, racialized, and colonized people. “Research” at the institute fuels both Zionism and “Asian hate” (especially targeting “North Korea” and China), which is promoted not only by Western white supremacy but also Japanese “white”  supremacy against “Asians,” whom Japanese imperialists and settlers have demonized and dehumanized as racialized others. It’s not coincidental that Shinzo Abe, who advocated for Japan’s far-right imperial ideology, denialism, re-militarization, and Japanese-supremacist racism, abandoned Japan’s so-called “balancing diplomacy in the Middle East,” and made a pro-Israel turn.

Under Zionists’ pressure, which includes demands for Japan to defund UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East) and adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has continued Abe’s pro-Israel turn and follows the United States and others in labeling Hamas as a “terrorist” organization, for legitimization of Israel’s genocide. However, Japan refuses to apply the same definition of terrorism to Israel’s war crimes. Japan also co-sponsored the US resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the Yemen resistance movement, which did not result in any human casualties, for its opposition to the Israeli genocide and insistence to abide by the BDS movement. The United States and its allies, including the Republic of Korea, in turn used the resolution to join the US statement to justify military attacks on Yemen. Most recently, Japan took an even more direct part in the Israeli genocide in Gaza by becoming the tenth government to suspend funding to UNRWA, thus directly participating in the genocidal practice of starving an occupied population and denying it medication, water, and shelter-–a form of punishment banned by international conventions. The attack on UNRWA, that was erected for Palestinian refugees exiled in 1948 Nakba and later years, along with their descendants, is also a collective punishment denying their right of return.

IV. People’s Truth against States’ Denialisms

Through our own painful struggle against the Japanese far-right government and historical denialists, leaders of the “Comfort Women” justice movement know how oppressors/colonizers/denialists feign neutrality while sanctioning genocide and repression. The movement rejects the racist and colonial logic that alleges that there are always two sides to each story as a way to deny survivors’ truth and legitimize colonial and war-time crimes and violence. There is only one side to genocide and colonialism, as Feminist for Justice in/for Palestine states. Likewise, the movement condemns and rejects Western media’s attempts to erase Israel’s colonial history and ongoing war crimes. 

Mainstream media’s uncritical parroting of Orientalist tropes for legitimizing Israel’s massacres and terror have been cemented by Zionists’ repression against those who oppose Israeli settler colonialism and demand justice for Palestine, by conflating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. It reminds us of how the far-right Japanese government claimed that the “Comfort Women” memorial incites anti-Japan sentiments and would lead to the bullying of Japanese children, while far-right politicians publicized their desire to destroy our memorial with a bomb.

Holding to the indivisibility of justice, the “Comfort Women” justice movement continues to strengthen de-national coalitions, which defy divide-and-conquer tactics and repression by nation states. It was critical that Japanese American communities in the SF Bay Area spoke up to support the “Comfort Women” memorial and critiqued the far-right Japanese government’s attempt to misuse their trauma. In the same way that Zionists conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism, Japanese denialists intentionally conflate white-supremacist anti-Japanese racism with critique of Japanese imperialism. Leaders of CWJC (“Comfort Women” Justice Coalition) also appreciate AMED Director’s critical support for the movement and education for justice for “comfort women” against denialism, including raising awareness within Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities. Dr. Abdulhadi refused to remain silent but instead immediately responded to the CWJC’s call to paint over Japan’s imperial flag on the wall of a Palestinian-owned restaurant. She worked closely with the restaurant owner, who has since become a strong supporter of the movement for justice for “comfort women.” Leaders of the “Comfort Women” justice movement have likewise expressed our concerns over the Zionist collusion of the San Francisco State University administration and its attempts to dismantle AMED Studies and cancel AMED courses on Palestine while not only refusing to protect the AMED director from Zionist attacks, but reprimanding her for doing her job to offer AMED courses to students. Through listening to narratives of anti-colonial resistance crossing movements and collectively fighting against the forces that deny permission to narrate, it is we who hold the ultimate power to truth that the Zionist, white supremacist, and denialist governments, institutions of knowledge, and media attempt to deny and distort. We join the call by our California State University Ethnic Studies colleagues and community members:

While the intensive Zionist smearing and bullying has produced a chilling effect that silenced many of our colleagues, we are presented with another opportunity today to once and for all come together in a unified voice to speak up and collectively reject oppression, colonial violence and racism against all our people. 

Dr. Tomomi Kinukawa is a queer scholar-activist with Zainichi Korean and Japanese ancestries and currently teaches in the Department of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University.


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