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November 20, 2012

The Anti-Israel Movement Then and Now: What has Changed Since Operation Cast Lead?

A little more than 1100 days after the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel has again found it necessary to confront rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at its civilians. On November 14, Israel assassinated Hamas’s military leader and began targeted operations to destroy the ammunition and infrastructure of various Gaza-based terrorist organizations. Now, as was the case in 2008-9, anti-Israel groups across the United States have immediately sprung into action and have organized petitions and demonstrations to protest Israel’s military operations. More than 70 anti-Israel protests have already taken place across the country.

But while the current rallies and demonstrations have thus far contained similarly extreme messages to those held four years ago – including expressions of support for terrorism, accusations of Israeli “genocide” and copious comparisons of Israelis to Nazis – much has changed as well.

What’s Different?

Increased Presence and Organizational Prowess of Jewish Anti-Zionists

Domestic Jewish anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace have become far more organized in the past two or three years and have mobilized in the last few days to respond to Israel’s operation, called Operation Pillar of Defense. While JVP played a marginal role at best during the 2008-9 war (there is evidence of their participation in a total of three anti-Israel protests), JVP has been one of the leading organizers of anti-Israel demonstrations against the current Israeli operations. The group has already helped organize protests in Olympia, Washington; Cincinnati, Ohio; Berkeley, California and Asheville, North Carolina.

The JVP chapter in Boston also planned to protest a pro-Israel rally that took place at a local synagogue on Monday, saying in a press release that the pro-Israel event “claims to be a gathering for peace and the safety of the people and children of Israel, but JVP calls out this event for what it truly is:  a pro-war rally that falsely aims to represent the Jewish community.” The statement also included remarks by a leader of JVP in Boston who said, “We stand here because while we grieve the loss of Israeli life, our hearts are also with the people of Gaza… Not so long ago it was Jewish deaths that were discounted and ignored,” an implicit comparison between the current situation and the Nazi Holocaust. 

A member of JVP’s Rabbinical Council, Brant Rosen, was one of the scheduled speakers at an anti-Israel protest on Monday in Chicago.

In addition to JVP, anti-Israel Jews have appeared at other rallies across the country, including at a protest in Boston where activists held a large banner that read “Jews For Intifada” and in New York where two individuals held signs that read, “Israelis Against the Gaza Massacre.”

 Occupy Wall Street Gets Involved

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement did not exist during the 2008-9 Gaza War. In the latest conflict, however, the social protest movement, with its built-in organizational structure and messaging capabilities, has proved to be extremely beneficial for the anti-Israel movement. Activists who identify with OWS have participated in several of the anti-Israel rallies that have been taking place, including two events in the Florida area. At one such protest in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, a member of Occupy Fort Lauderdale who attended the protest expressed implicit support for violent resistance against Israel, saying “The oppressed have the right to fight back by any means they have,” in an interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Two days earlier, an anti-Israel rally in Boston was co-sponsored by Occupy Boston (which has previously organized anti-Israel events including a sit-in at the Israeli Consulate last November) and featured a sign that read, “Un-Occupy Palestine.”

A working group affiliated with OWS has also been using its Facebook page to disseminate information about protests taking place internationally and ways to “help” Gaza by joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. And the website for the New York continent of OWS has posted a list of all the protests taking place as well.

The involvement of local Occupy groups in anti-Israel activity does not appear to be an official position by the national Occupy Wall Street Movement, however, which has not issued any statement about the latest round of conflict on its Web site or social media pages.

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September 24, 2012

Anti-Israel Teach-in Held During Occupy Wall Street “Free University Week”

A working group affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement held a teach-in over the weekend on advocating for and supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel. The group, known as the “Global Justice Working Group,” used the session to demonize Israel and to demonstrate how the pro-BDS agenda goes hand-in-hand with the goals of OWS.

A sign at the Occupy BDS teach-in New York

The event was held on Saturday, September 22, as part of an OWS-organized weeklong program in New York called “Free University Week.”

Speakers during the event condemned Israel as a “European settler movement” and Israeli policy as extremely oppressive. Riham Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and activist with Adalah-NY, a local pro-boycott group, described the situation for Palestinians as a “struggle of indigenous people against colonizing settler tactics.” Another speaker accused Israel of having “violated every article in the 4th Geneva Convention.” The speakers represented a variety of domestic anti-Israel groups, including Adalah-NY, Punks against Apartheid, New Yorkers against the Cornell-Technion Partnership and CODEPINK’s “Stolen Beauty” campaign, which calls for a boycott of AHAVA products.

The activists also repeatedly sought to demonstrate that  the goals of OWS and the BDS movement are interconnected. One OWS speaker, for example, warned the participants that Israel trains American law enforcement and equips police with weaponry and riot control tools. A representative of the Occupy Oakland movement then deliberately “connected the dots,” alleging that the “same type of tear gas being used against them [Occupy Oakland] is being used against the Palestinians.”

Saturday’s event represents the latest effort by anti-Israel activists to inject their cause into the now year-old OWS social protest movement. Up until now, these efforts – which included waving anti-Israel signs and chanting anti-Israel slogans at OWS demonstrations – were not officially sanctioned by OWS or any of its affiliated groups. In what could be a possible shift, the teach-in was sponsored by a group formally tied to OWS and was promoted on the official New York General Assembly website, which hosts content from “dozens of groups working together to organize and set the vision for the #occupywallstreet movement.

While one might imagine that a group called “Global Justice Working Group” would focus on a variety of issues of global injustice, the group seems to maintain a singular focus on criticizing Israel. Indeed, its Facebook page and website are regularly updated with anti-Israel content, including claims that Israeli checkpoints are a “tool of suppression” and calls for the Red Hot Chili Peppers to refuse to perform in Israel. [The concert was held as planned on September 10.]

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March 29, 2012

Israeli Knesset Members Shouted Down by Brandeis Students

Anti-Israel activists, including members of Brandeis University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), interrupted a presentation by five Israeli Knesset members, including an Israeli-Arab MK, on Monday.
After the event began, the students stood up and revealed t-shirts with the word “apartheid” written in Hebrew and began shouting, “Israel is an apartheid state” and “The Knesset is an apartheid parliament.” They were subsequently removed from the event, which was taking place at a local synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts. 
The event, titled “A Discussion on Israel and the Diaspora,” was co-sponsored by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Family Foundation in an effort to strengthen the relationship between Israeli government officials and the American Jewish community. 

The disruption is notable for two reasons. The first is that Brandeis SJP described the action on its blog as a signal that Israeli Knesset members are “not welcome by students at Brandeis University.” It is, however, fairly certain that many Brandeis students do welcome Israeli politicians, and that only an infinitesimal percentage of students engage in and support these disruptive tactics. For some reason, it seems that the protesters believe their interests (a minority view) should trump those of the majority.
The second point to note is that the individuals involved promoted their disruption as a “mic check” and labeled the action as “Occupy the Knesset!” This language evokes (and refers to tactics used by) the Occupy Wall Street movement and other Occupy protests that took place around the U.S. last summer. Anti-Israel groups have consistently tried to seize on the momentum of the popular social protest movement and apply its tactics to anti-Israel efforts.

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