A group of demonstrators gathered Tuesday morning near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending the entry of refugees and restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Roughly 50 people, mainly Americans living in Japan, gathered near the embassy in Minato Ward at around 8 a.m. They held signs with slogans like “Build bridges, not walls,” “No Muslim ban” and “Immigrants make America great.”
“We will protest in solidarity with these individuals, including refugees from war-torn nations, as we stand against this unlawful, immoral and unjust action,” the organizers said in a Monday news release.
“We urge the Trump administration to cancel this executive order and to obey federal court orders against its implementation, and we ask all elected officials and world leaders to speak out against this despicable act,” it said.
Organizer Jesse Glickstein, an American lawyer living in Japan, said the demonstration was part of the global backlash against the immigration clampdown. Protests flared up around the world soon after the policy was implemented last Friday, which is also International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Glickstein, who is Jewish, said his grandparents immigrated to the U.S. after surviving the Holocaust.
“This, to me, is possibly the most offensive thing a president can do,” Glickstein said before the protest began.
“I think this is important so that the Japanese people understand that the majority of Americans are not in agreement with this,” he said. “We welcome refugees, we welcome diversity, and this administration honestly is basically … waging war on this concept.”
Protester Alexander Gonzalez said he rejects the policy because it targets specific citizens.
“There are many other American citizens around the world who do not support this ban,” he said. “I hope that we can send a message and share our story with the Japanese people. We’re going to continue fighting policies like this that undermine the basic freedoms and values of the American standard.”
As protests unfolded around the world, U.S. allies found themselves in a difficult situation.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the executive order, British Prime Minister Theresa May came under domestic fire when she did not criticize the policy after being the first world leader to hold a summit with Trump.
Japan is in a delicate position as well. The government is distancing itself from the issue, calling it an internal matter for the U.S. in an apparent effort to avoid friction ahead of a summit between Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scheduled for Feb. 10.
Abe said Monday his government is not in a position to express its views on the issue. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida echoed Abe, adding that while the issues of refugees and terrorism are global challenges, the situation is different in each country.
Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Abe should reprove Trump, whose policies and executive orders belie the traditional values shared by the two countries.
“Japan ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and even enacted security laws that rest on shared values such as international cooperation and democracy,” said Nakano, who was a staunch opponent of the security legislation that took effect last March. “Yet Tokyo still acts as if it is OK as long as the Japan-U.S. alliance is solid, but we should not blindly follow the U.S. when Trump does not share these values any more.”
Trump’s executive order has prompted some Japanese companies to provide support to those affected by the immigration ban.
Online shopping giant Rakuten Inc. announced late Monday that its communications app Viber is offering free calls between the U.S. and the seven countries affected by the order. It usually charges fees to make connections from the app to a landline or mobile number.
The offer was made “so that those affected will now have one less barrier to cross when trying to reach their loved ones,” according to the app’s website.
Trump’s order is “extremely disappointing,” Rakuten said in a statement released on its official blog Tuesday.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will do our best to continue to support all of our colleagues and the many diverse communities they represent, regardless of their nationality or religion,” it said.