By Benay Blend
“What was old has become new again,” wrote local activist Lee Einer in a Facebook post this morning. Einer is referring to Donald Trump’s use of federal law enforcement officers, dressed in camouflage but with no identification, riding in unmarked cars, rounding up Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon. Since July 14th multiple videos have documented officers whisking people off in cars with no explanation as to why they are being detained.
Reporting for The Nation, Jeet Heer contends that these actions are “illegal and unconstitutional.” Nevertheless, it is likely that they are operating under the aegis of Barack Obama’s approval of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act which permits the detention of Americans if suspected of being terrorists.
Portland seems to be the epicenter of attention. This is partly because it is home to a large contingent of right-wing groups like the Proud Boys as well as left-wing activists grouped under the Antifa (anti-Fascist) label. Trump has recently announced that he plans to designate the latter a terrorist organization, a move that Sahar Aziz says might allow the President to quash any group that he feels opposes him in the days leading up to the ballot.
There is every indication that Trump will continue escalating tension under the guise of “law and order” until the November election. Nevertheless, as All African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP) organizer Onyesonwu Chatoyer notes, Portland is not the test case. Instead, she claims, that distinction goes to “Homan Square in Chicago and the past 10+ years of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” Looking back, “people have been snatched off of city streets and disappeared in the U.S. for years.”
Journalist Myles Hoenig places the origins even earlier. “Obama set the stage for ‘pinocheting’ in Portland when he crushed Occupy,” Hoenig observed, referring here to Augusto Pinochet, the U.S. backed dictator of Chile. After a 1973 military coup that toppled the duly elected government of Salvador Allende, Pinochet was responsible for the disappearance and/or execution of more than 3200 people, along with thousands more who were detained, tortured, or exiled.
By expanding the breadth of this article beyond the United States, as Chatoyer suggests to do, it is possible to draw attention to Israel’s role in “snatching and disappearing people all over the world,” but in particular the Southern Cone, Palestine, and now in the United States.
In the article “Israel’s Sordid History of Supporting Dictatorships,” Eitay Mack traces both the Rabin and Begin government’s involvement with military juntas in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Guatemala. During the years that dictatorships were in power (1970s-1980s), the Israelis sold weapons and offered military training to these governments that committed crimes against humanity, disappeared thousands, and tortured tens of thousands. All was done in the name of law and order, much like Trump’s regime today.
In Palestine, children who are kidnapped by Israeli soldiers are held in indefinite detention in the hopes of pressuring their parents into silence. According to Salwa Sadek, each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12, are detained by this system. “Mistreatment of Palestinian children as consequences for ‘rock-throwing,’ Sadek says, “ is becoming increasingly normalized,” as Israel tightens its hold on the Occupation.
What ties all of these examples together are the tentacles that Israel spreads throughout the world. By selling arms, surveillance and police training to various countries, the regime contributes to the militarization of police in many countries.
Thanks to the Jewish Voice for Peace campaign Deadly Exchange, this information has been accessible for several years. But it is only recently with the police killing of George Floyd that the issue has gained attention.
As noted by Gary Fields, Black people in American and Palestinians under the Occupation “share a similar fate at the hands” of the police. Nevertheless, when Presidential hopeful Joe Biden says that “the relationship between Israel and the United States” goes beyond arms and surveillance, he is not far from the truth. “It’s about the shared soul that unites our countries,” he continues, “generation upon generation.”
Of course, Biden meant that as a compliment, for he admires the Zionist state. Looking closer, there is much to be wary of in this statement. In Biden’s words:
“The conditions under which the Israeli people live, the sense of vulnerability, the constant fear of attack is real. It is not imagined. It’s real. And the people of Israel have lived under siege since the beginning. They’ve built a nation in defiance of relentless threats from their neighbors. They sustain that nation in the face of rocket attacks, terrorist tunnels, and now this unconscionable spate of stabbings…Israel is a nation of uncommon courage.”
Biden’s words are clearly propaganda, straight out of the Zionist playbook. But they eerily match Trump’s own view of internal threats in the United States.
On July 3, speaking before Mount Rushmore, in South Dakota, the President painted a similar picture of a nation under attack, only this time from within. Speaking of the growing movement to take down the country’s monuments to racism, he declared: “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” Comparing “this new far-left fascism” to totalitarianism, he harked back to the 1950s Red Scare by warning that the enemy is everywhere, even “our corporate boardrooms.”
At this point, Trump announced that he would be deploying federal law enforcement to “protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.” In short, he announced what was going to happen in Portland.
When Biden praises the values that America shares with Israel, this is in reality what connects these countries. “Since its inception,” writes Gary Fields, “the state of Israel has adopted a militaristic approach to policing its Palestinian population.” This has been true of American, too, though in the past it has been people of color, the poor and the Indigenous were the targets.
In his novel 1984, George Orwell predicted what would become the American credo: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” In 2020 this brand of gaslighting is around again, though it has been around for many years.
In closing, Onyesonwu Chatoyer reflects that the Disappeared in Portland reminds her of that “‘and then they came for me and no one was around to speak out’” poem.” The difference is that now, however, they are coming for the rest of us, the complacent who looked away too long.
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.