Anti-Olympics campaigners and other activists gathered yesterday just outside Tokyo to protest against the opening of an Israeli arms and military expo.
ISDEF is Israel’s largest international defence and homeland security exhibition. It is happening in Japan at Todoroki Arena in Kawasaki, a city between Tokyo and Yokohama, from August 29th to August 30th. According to its publicity, ISDEF “brings together government and military officials, industry members, end users and decision-makers from Israel and around the world”. The main event in Israel has been held since 2007 and the 2019 edition is expected to attract 15,000 visitors and 300 exhibiting companies. This 2018 Japan expo features exhibitors from six countries, including Israel and Japan. Visitors are restricted to government and industry representatives; it is not open to the general public.
The Network Against Japan Arms Trade (NAJAT) [sic] is a pacifist group dedicated to fighting the global arms market in Japan. In partnership with Action Kanagawa, an anti-Abe and anti-war group based in the prefecture, it formed a dedicated unit, the Group Opposing the Israeli Military Expo in Kawasaki, for campaigning against the ISDEF expo in Kawasaki.
On August 29th, the group organised a picket and die-in event at the arena entrance with some 200 participants, according to announced information. They unfurled striking banners in English and Japanese, and then laid down like dead bodies on the ground outside the venue. Speakers at the rally included Middle East researchers and anti-Olympic protestors. Demonstrators also clashed verbally with arriving attendees and organisers.
It was a small protest but one that succeeded in getting noticed. Riot police officers were in attendance at the venue, indicating the tension over the timing and nature of the event, along with members of the press. The ISDEF Japan organisers have also been closely following the protest movement over the summer, it seems, and have blocked activists (and myself, ostensibly an observer) on social media.
Japan effectively banned exports of munitions and arms by domestic corporations from 1967 to 2014. Previously restricted to circumventing the ban by selling only parts, major manufacturers are now set to benefit as the new market opens up. Campaigners, though, see the lifting of the ban as a shift towards remilitarisation. While an expo spokesperson talking to the local media emphasised the focus on security, safety and terrorism countermeasures, ISDEF taking place in Japan is a further sign for activists of the dangerous path that Japan is lurching towards, led by the lobby pushing for reform of the pacifist Constitution. Though this is the first ISDEF in Japan, two similar foreign arms trade events happened in, respectively, 2015 and 2016. The one in 2015 was the first military industry trade show in Japan — and the first anywhere to feature Japanese manufacturers. Those same two pioneering events — Japan International Aerospace Exhibition and Maritime/Air Systems & Technologies Asia — are scheduled to happen yet again in 2018 and 2019.
Ironically, the fairs will have trouble finding a venue in Tokyo in 2020, since Big Sight and other such sites are blocked off for several months to host Olympics-themed events and preparations. NAJAT is also associated with one of the main anti-Olympic groups in Japan protesting the 2020 Games and attended the recent rally in Harajuku. Likewise, campaigners from key anti-2020 group Hangorin no Kai were at the August 29th die-in. The protest against ISDEF is linked by activists to their concerns that the upcoming Tokyo Olympics will be exploited as an excuse to usher in increased state and police surveillance, oppression and militarisation. Anti-Olympic slogans were explicitly incorporated into the protests — in the same way the ISDEF Japan organisers directly referenced the 2020 Games and the need to boost security.
Last week Hangorin no Kai issued a “letter of protest” in both Japanese and English.
We learned about the 2018 ISDEF Japan Exhibition on May 15th, the very day known as the Nakba day; it was in the midst of Israeli Defense Force mercilessly shooting down Palestinian people who were marching to their homeland, unarmed. Many lives were lost due to the military action taken by the IDF.
We are troubled by the Olympic logo conspicuously placed on the ISDEF promotional poster, which reads: With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, and over 40 million tourists expected to visit; security is the greatest concern to the organizers and authorities.
It is obvious to us that ISDEF Japan is taking up the Olympic opportunity to sell the security technology that is responsible for the killing of many Palestinian people. We do not want to see a bloodstained event, and are determined to fight against the Olympics that necessitates the violent technology against people.
The protestors also demonstrated ahead of the opening of the fair. On August 27th, a small group held up placards outside the corporate headquarters of telecommunications giant SoftBank, which is sponsoring ISDEF Japan in its capacity as a stakeholder in the cybersecurity market. Hangorin no Kai even turned up the expo venue two days before ISDEF Japan opened, to display an anti-Olympic banner (“We don’t need ISDEF Japan or the Olympics”) across the loading entrance while materials for the fair were taken off a truck and transported into the arena.
An online petition was also launched earlier in the summer on Change.org, attracting over 4,000 signatures. This was then submitted to the office of the mayor of Kawasaki on August 16th, calling on him to withdraw permission for the event.
A demonstration also takes place today on the final day of the expo. The movement, especially the opening day protest, has drawn attention from not only alternative media like Labor Net but also mainstream outlets like NHK, Sankei Shimbum, TV Kanagawa, Yahoo News and Tōyō Keizai. This is significant, since the anti-2020 movement, especially the aspects related to homeless evictions, has been almost entirely ignored.
It goes without saying that this protest campaign against the ISDEF event in Kawasaki is also rooted in the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian movement in Japan. Many of the banners and publicity images for the protest has hinged as much on anger against Israeli state’s violence against the Palestinians as Japan-specific contexts like remilitarisation, the Olympics and the Constitution. Far from a novel development, this has an established precedent within the Japanese New Left, going back mainly to the early 1970s with, most famously, the emergence of the Japanese Red Army in Lebanon, but also continues today. President Trump’s decision to relocate the United States embassy to Jerusalem, for example, was protested by veteran campaigners in Tokyo on 14 May this year. Besides the far-left Japanese activists and (in the eyes of many) terrorists who have taken up arms to fight Israel, many Japanese journalists and photographers have dedicated their careers to highlighting the Palestinian cause, including Toshikuni Doi and Ryūichi Hirokawa. Certain sections of this movement are anti-Zionist and opposed to the state of Israel’s existence. Whether or not their beliefs also constitute anti-Semitism is a matter of debate, with scholars like the late David G. Goodman condemning the Japanese New Left for its indulgence in the “socialism of fools”, but a closer reading of the discourse of the JRA and others over the years suggests that their agenda should not be simply dismissed as racist.