War in Gaza Causes Surprising Rift Within Japanese American Group

In the 1970s, leaders at the Japanese American Citizens League, one of the oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organizations, felt the prospect of reparations for their wartime incarceration was out of reach.

Many Americans knew little about how the government had imprisoned more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of whom were American citizens, during World War II. Large civil rights organizations were preoccupied with the broader fight for gender and racial equality, and even other Asian American groups were reluctant to support reparations.

Then came a surprising endorsement from the American Jewish Committee. It was the start of a decades-long bond between two of the country’s most established Jewish and Japanese American civil rights groups — a relationship cherished by both of their communities.

But a new generation of Japanese Americans is now pushing to sever ties with two prominent Jewish American organizations. In a recent letter, a group of mostly young activists calling themselves Nikkei4Palestine urged the Japanese American Citizens League to take a stronger stance in support of Palestinians by calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and renouncing affiliations with Jewish groups they labeled “Zionist.”

It was the latest example of how the Israel-Hamas war has roiled cultural and political institutions far beyond the Middle East, and not just among groups with direct ties to the region. While most Japanese Americans vote Democratic, an increasingly vocal generation of young activists is trying to push their parents’ and grandparents’ civil rights group further to the left.

The Nikkei4Palestine leaders wrote in late December that the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League had promoted human rights “while consciously omitting calls for equal and fair treatment of Palestinians” and conflating any criticism of Israeli government policies with antisemitism. They argued that Japanese Americans were being complicit with the Israeli military attacks in Gaza by standing with those organizations and not denouncing U.S. financial support for Israel.

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