Overseas Asians join hands to stop US support for Israel

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MANILA: As tens of thousands of people have been crowding the streets of American cities for the past six months to protest US support for Israel’s war on Gaza, some of the leading voices have been coming from Asian diaspora groups.

Their support for Palestine often stems from personal history, as many Asians living in the US have origins in countries including Korea, Vietnam and Bangladesh, where American influence had over decades facilitated wars and deadly violence.

Since the beginning of Israel’s deadly onslaught on Gaza on Oct. 7, an alliance representing them — the 18 Million Rising — has been calling on its members to “join in support and organize to end Israel’s oppression of Palestinians,” and demanding an end to arming Israel and “US-sponsored violence.”

The group is a broad coalition of Asian, Asian-American and Pacific-Islander organizations, which describes itself as an anti-war organization, whose staff and supporters “come from homelands that have been militarized,” Sharmin Hossain, the group’s organizing director, told Arab News.

“When Oct. 7 happened, we were ready to partner with Palestinian-led organizations to really fight against the mass disinformation and violence, as well as the increased budgets that the US was passing to give Israel more weapons.”

Hossain, who is a Bangladeshi American, grew up in a world post the 9/11 attacks, where she had witnessed increased discrimination against Muslims.

“I grew up politicized, but also very aware of the war economy and the way that the US actively targets and surveils communities of color,” she said.

“I was part of Students for Justice in Palestine on my campus, where I saw firsthand, even in the 2000s, the way Zionists would attack students and attack people who supported the Palestinian cause. One thing about Zionism is that not only is it racism, but it’s a white supremacist logic that looks to victimize itself. So, you know, as a young Muslim, I would see the way Zionists would frame themselves as the victims while they were supported by the US and its imperial allies.”

Hossain believes that the narrative the West has shaped around Palestine has distanced the Asian diaspora in the US from the Palestinians. This is what 18 Million Rising tries to counter in its advocacy, to show how the Palestinian struggle has been related to their own.

With a network of 180,000 members, the alliance focuses on a mix of online and offline work, in line with the advocacy of Palestinian groups in the US. They build partnerships with other Asian grassroots organizations such as the US branch of BAYAN — the largest Philippine alliance of women’s associations, medics, migrant workers, and students.

“BAYAN USA and our member organizations have had a long history of working together with grassroots Palestinian organizations with the understanding that our struggles for national liberation are deeply intertwined. After Oct. 7, the need to mobilize our people’s movement and the broader Filipino community in support and defense of Palestine grew only more urgent,” Adrian Bonifacio, national chair of BAYAN USA, told Arab News.

BAYAN was established in 1985 as an alliance of progressive organizations during the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos, the father and namesake of the incumbent president of the Philippines.

The group believes that centuries of their own country’s colonial subjugation should help Filipinos identify with the Palestinian struggle for liberation in their own land.

“Beyond this, our struggles are also materially linked. The US sends billions of dollars every year to support Israel’s genocide and apartheid against Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Philippine government was the third-largest buyer of Israeli weapons between 2018 and 2022. On both accounts, this is money that should instead be going toward the needs of our communities: education, health care, and jobs,” Bonifacio said.

Hossain was of the same view, trying to show how global relationships dictated the way that the economy worked and how other communities in the US should see it was affecting them too.

“When a foreign government like Israel is determining the way the billions of taxpayer dollars get spent, that means that we are not a democracy,” she said.

“I can’t convince somebody to care about the lives of people. But if you’re bothered about homelessness, you’re bothered about dirty streets, you’re bothered about the schools in your community declining, that is all connected to your taxpayer dollars, which are actively funding and supporting wars more than they’re funding your ability to have a good life in your community.”