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Press Release: Governor Brown Should Not Use the Holocaust to Hide Racism

[Image of Jerry Brown speaking in October 2010. Image by Neon Tommy/Flickr] [Image of Jerry Brown speaking in October 2010. Image by Neon Tommy/Flickr]

[The following press release was released by The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) on 21 July, 2013.]

Governor Brown Should Not Use the Holocaust to Hide Racism: Jews Decry Brown’s visit to Dachau While at Home He Condones Racism.

As California prisoners’ massive hunger strike against long-term solitary confinement, group punishment, and other policies of the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) enters its second week, Governor Jerry Brown is on a two week vacation to Germany and Ireland. It is shocking that the Governor has chosen this time to go on vacation while the CDCR refuses to meet the hunger strikers’ five just demands, demands that would end the torture of prisoners in the state he is supposed to be responsible for governing. 

Included in his schedule is a stop at the Dachau concentration camp. We cannot view this as a random choice. We view it as a reprehensible and deliberate attempt to focus the public’s attention on past crimes in order to deflect it from current ones. This we do not accept. The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network strongly condemns Brown’s exploitation of the Nazi genocide to distract from his complicity in the repression and racism against prisoners – disproportionately people of color and low income people, women, and transgender people – which ultimately serves to make money for the lucrative prison industry in California, and subjects vulnerable populations to constant state repression and terror. 

The racism which smoothes Brown’s silence about a massive hunger strike is exactly the same racism which allows for the massive and disproportionate incarceration of black and brown people in California and nationwide. As Michelle Alexander points out, “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its Black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” To bring these statistics closer to home, “In Washington, D.C. ... it is estimated that three out of four young black men (and nearly all those in the poorest neighborhoods) can expect to serve time in prison.” 

Indeed, precisely this racism allows for the extrajudicial killing of black people with impunity. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin is simply the latest victim. Last week his killer literally got away with murder as a jury found Zimmerman “not guilty” based on a Florida law that gives (white) people the right to use deadly force to defend themselves, their homes and their vehicles. As documented in a report by Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, every twenty eight hours in 2012 someone employed or protected by the US government killed a black man, woman, or child. That year, a total of 313 black people were killed by police, security guards and vigilantes. 

Meanwhile, the struggle against racism and colonialism in Palestine is increasingly becoming a reference point for struggles against racist and colonial policies elsewhere. Over the past two years, hunger strikers in California and Palestine have shared a struggle against inhumane treatment. Today, Palestinian prisoners strike against isolation and the use of “administrative detention” - the indefinite and arbitrary detention of Palestinian people, including children, by Israeli occupying forces without charge, evidence, or trial. Significantly, Sheikh Khader Adnan, a former Palestinian political prisoner, whose sixty-six day hunger strike in protest at being detained without charge attracted worldwide attention, wrote in support of the California hunger strike: 

The policy of isolation is a cheap weapon in the hands of those who hold power. The policy of isolation is used against American citizens who are victims of the political, economic and social order/system that thrives on greed, discrimination and the deprived, including the African-Americans and Palestinian resistors such as Sameeh Hamoudeh and Sami Al-Aryan…Hunger strikes are a courageous step and a real tool for all those who are deprived of their rights to lift the existing oppression, and I hope that these prisoners will gain their rights and their demands. Today, the hunger strikes of the Palestinian prisoners inspire those who are detained to engage in hunger strikes to guarantee that they are treated humanely and with respect and dignity. 

It is therefore grotesque, but also somehow perfect, that Israel is offering the United States ethical tips on how its doctors can force-feed the hunger-striking Guantanamo prisoners. The two countries use similar policies because ultimately they are both faced with the task of governing, yet also repressing, “surplus populations.” To do so they both resort to harsh prison systems, policing, and military control of the people they deem undesirable. In the course of these imprisonments, they then encounter human beings who refuse to accept the unjust, harsh, and brutal treatment they encounter. And so in turn they face hunger strikers whom they struggle to silence. 

For Governor Brown to commemorate the horrors of Dachau while allowing the horrors of solitary confinement for years and decades is hypocrisy, and it is hypocrisy which hides brutality. A death camp is different from a prison. But the underlying logic of the racism and repression of the Nazi genocide resounds: that certain groups of people can be isolated, tortured and killed because of who they are and what they believe in. 

As Jews in solidarity with prisoners organizing from Pelican Bay to Palestine to Guantanamo, we say Never Again for Anyone. and demand that Governor Brown insist that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation meet the dignified demands of the brave and brilliantly organized hunger strikers for humane treatment. 

Please take a moment to sign the "Pledge of Resistance" to stand with California prisoners on hunger strike!

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