Thursday, November 17, 2016

Resisting the Rising Tide of Oppression

“The election of Donald Trump was an earthquake that changed the face of the planet, writes Israeli political columnist, Uri Avnery. In the U.S. personal threats to Muslims, Jews, and people of color, already on the rise before the end of the presidential campaign, have spiked in the days after the election. A Palestinian-American Quaker writes on Facebook, “Folks in Palestine messaging me to stay safe. Let that sink in.”

On the University of Michigan campus, racist posters and fliers demeaning African Americans, Jews, Muslims, and women have been stapled to kiosks and slipped into dormitories in the dead of night. Last week a white man approached a young Muslim woman and told her he would set her on fire with his cigarette lighter if she didn’t remove her hijab. Twitter accounts of activists have been filled with vile messages from the “alt-right,” emboldened by the blatant racism and xenophobia of the Trump campaign.

But Donald Trump’s “unique mixture of megalomania, showmanship and mass appeal,” as Avnery puts it, is not unfamiliar to Israelis. After last year’s elections, Avnery writes, “Israel was overrun by a band of far-right politicians, like a pack of hungry wolves. Men and women without charm, without dignity, possessed by a ravenous hunger for power.”

These politicians are challenging the Tel Aviv "old elites," just as Trump has set the U.S. public against Washington. The worst of them are inciting interpersonal hatred and resentment: “Jewish citizens against Arab citizens, Israelis of Eastern descent against Ashkenazis of European descent, the uncultured against the cultured, and the poor against all others, tearing apart the delicate ties of Israeli society.” 

Yet such rabble rousing and intimidation pales in comparison with the larger, more impersonal forces that isolate, exclude, and diminish whole populations based on their social or religious identities.

In the U.S., we hear loose talk about the new administration compiling a vast and detailed registry of immigrants from Muslim countries, incarcerating or deporting up to three million undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and turning mass incarceration into a lucrative business.  

In Israel/Palestine, the far-right is threatening to retroactively legalize settlements on Palestinian lands, and to continue to escalate the violent repression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 

Such large scale oppression is facilitated by technology – impersonal in itself, but political when put to human use.

Hewlett Packard, the global technological giant, is using its expertise not only to supply ink to millions of ordinary folks’ printers, but also to identify and suppress dissidents, censor information, and supervise and control restive populations around the world.

In the U.S., HP technology is being used by the Department of Homeland Security to track, raid, detain, and depart millions of immigrant families on a scale unprecedented in US history. HP tracks data essential for the continued incarceration of millions of black, Latino, Native American, and impoverished people, as well as for widespread legal discrimination against former prisoners.

In Israel/Palestine, HP technology is being used to develop an automated biometric control system that allows Israel to obtain the full profile of virtually every Palestinian over the age of 16, including fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial recognition. Biometric ID cards facilitated by HP technology lay the technical foundation for Israel’s system of tiered citizenship, which assigns rights and privileges according to “nationality” – Jewish, Arab, or Bedouin. 

These ID’s form the basis of rampant discrimination in housing, employment, marriage, healthcare, education and policing.
Such a scale of technological control has brought forth a tactical, coordinated response from grassroots activists, religious and civil institutions, universities, and individuals around the world. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement began in 2005 in response to Palestinian oppression. But now that activists recognize that global corporations and state institutions are repressing the vulnerable in similar ways around the world, the BDS movement has expanded.

This year, on November 25, the U.S.’s biggest shopping day of the year, and in the week that follows, BDS activists plan nonviolent actions in Palestine, Egypt, Malaysia, several Latin American countries, and all across Europe. In the U.S. the campaign has confirmation from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Chico, Santa Cruz, DC, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, and are waiting to hear from Rochester, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Ithaca. Everywhere, it seems, activists are calling for economic boycott and divestment from HP and its insidious methods of and control.

In these perilous times, a strong, coordinated, nonviolent response to repression is essential. As Quakers, we hope readers will join in by personally boycotting HP, persuading schools and religious institutions to divest from HP, and educating government officials about the ways that institutional racism and bigotry can be so easily facilitated by the benign technology we rely on every day. 

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