George Takei's Deeply Personal Message Urges Us Not To Judge A People For Its Leaders' Actions

Takei used his experiences during America's 1940s Japanese Internment to draw parallels to today, urging us not repeat the same mistakes.

Conflict between Palestine and Israel mikdam, The Everett Collection, duncan1890, PhilipCacka, yorkfoto | Canva

The conflict between Palestine and Israel began a new, horrifying chapter over the weekend when Palestinian militant group, Hamas, which controls the contested territory of the Gaza Strip, launched an unprecedented attack on Israeli territory.

The decades-long conflict between the two ethnic and religious groups has historically been divisive, and over the weekend these heated disagreements left many people furious and heartbroken.


George Takei's take on the Israel/Palestine conflict draws from his experiences with Japanese Internment in the 1940s.

Takei, a Japanese-American best known for his role as Sulu on the iconic series "Star Trek," has frequently dealt candidly, both in public appearances and in his work, about his experience of being sent to one of the United States' Japanese internment camps at the age of five, following Japan's 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

The camps were enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt following the unprecedented attack on U.S. soil, which stoked fears about national security nationwide. What followed was a wave of xenophobic fear and suspicion of Japanese immigrants and citizens, who were presumed to be sympathetic to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito's invasions of China and other Asian territories and his attack on the United States.


The solution to this perceived security problem was to round up Japanese residents — many of whom, like Takei, were citizens born on American soil — and force them into camps with often appalling conditions. There they were essentially held hostage by troops given shoot-to-kill orders for anyone who attempted to escape. The American government had little pushback over the decision to create the internment camps or the treatment within, and social outcry was minimal. 

In a post on X, aka Twitter, Takei drew parallels between the Japanese Internment and the horrific scenes of terrorism and retaliation unfolding in Palestine and Israel — and a distinct danger of history repeating itself when it comes to our sentiments toward the people of both territories.

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Takei urges us to separate the people of Palestine and Israel from the actions of their leaders and militants. 

In his tweet, Takei described the American people as feeling "stunned" by the violence of the Pearl Harbor attack, much like most of us feel today following the horrifying images and videos of both Hamas' attack on Israel and Israel's retaliation.


"Revenge was understandably on everyone’s mind," he wrote, "including many Americans of Japanese descent who opposed the emperor and were peaceful and law-abiding U.S. citizens and residents."

But Takei went on to describe how quickly the distinction between Hirohito and those of Japanese descent was erased, and how rapidly public sentiment curdled into hatred.

"The U.S. government ... targeted everyone who happened to look like the people who had carried out the attack," he writes. "Those of us who had done nothing wrong were forced to pay the consequences for the decisions of others far away and disconnected from us. We were interned for years, in open-air prisons, while America went off to fight Japan, Germany and Italy."


The incredibly fraught Israel/Palestine conflict inspires a similar knee-jerk vitriol and outrage. Many who unequivocally support Israel see the acts of aggression by groups like Hamas and the Palestinian people's fight for independence itself as one and the same, and hence unforgivable, especially given the centuries-long context of Jewish people being subjected to not just anti-Semitism but repeated acts of genocide like the Holocaust.

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Meanwhile, those who oppose Israel's action in Palestine and the living conditions of the Palestinian people see actions like those of Hamas as, if not defensible, at least to some degree understandable. Oppression breeds retaliation, after all. 

The discourse around these conflicts often lacks nuance entirely — those who criticize the Israeli government are often branded as anti-Semites, even as many Israelis themselves, including prominent members of its Knesset, directly criticize the role of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right governance has played in the escalating vitriol in the region.


Similarly fraught rhetoric happens on the other side of the debate, with Hamas' horrifying atrocities held up as representative of all Palestinians as if Hamas is the unitary government of Palestine — and as if supporting the Palestinian struggle for independence is inextricable from supporting terrorism.

And because of the times in which we live and the incredibly layered historical contexts at play, the discourse frequently devolves into often naked and virulent anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, both of which have been surging all over the world in recent years amid the political polarization that has infected the United States and nearly every other country in the West. Meanwhile, the actual people impacted — the rank-and-file Palestinians and Israelis just trying to live their lives like the rest of us — are all but elided out of all of this rhetoric.


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For Takei, this has a deeply unsettling resonance that we'd all do well to consider.

"It’s so important that we carry the lessons of the past through to today," he writes. "Merely because one group commits atrocities and acts with depravity does not mean vast hundreds of thousands or even millions of others should be lumped together with them and made to suffer."

Not every Israeli agrees with Netanyahu's approach to Palestine, and not every Palestinian sides with Hamas, because a people is not the sum of its leaders. That's a truth we in the United States should know all too well by now after our recent years of political upheaval and division. As Takei cautions, speaking from experience: "We must never paint with the brush of justice and retaliation too broadly, or the toll of human suffering will rise immeasurably."


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.