It was a startling scene on Monday outside a pro-Israel press conference in downtown Manhattan. Scores of protestors, separated from their representatives by yards of concrete, police barriers and metal gates, shouted down the small group of New York politicians and reporters huddled together like emperor penguins in front of City Hall. The standoff reflected the growing isolation felt by Israel and its supporters as pressure to end the occupation of Palestine gains momentum around the world.
The confrontation occurred when nearly a dozen New York politicians vowed to stand with Israel during the latest round of violence in Gaza, which has killed more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli.
The press conference was attended by a diverse set of elected officials, including Congressmen Charles Rangel and Jerrold Nadler, New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and City Councilmen Mark Levine and David Greenfield. While the politicians defended Israel’s use of force to curb the Hamas rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, they had difficulty speaking over the chorus coming from the pro-Palestine protestors surrounding them.
“Honestly, I really hope that our continuous chants were in their minds and continue to be in their minds throughout the day, if only throughout the day, the same way that their drones are in the minds of Palestinian children in Gaza,” said Fatina Jarara, a member of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Awda.
Indeed, many of the elected officials at City Hall felt the need to address the protest during the press conference.
“The people outside protesting are protesting because innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed. It would seem to me the protest would be with Hamas because you cannot negotiate for peace if you cannot control those people who are supposed to be your negotiating partners,” Rangel said of the demonstration.
Outside City Hall, the protestors saw things differently. Many said the enormous gap between the number of Palestinian and Israeli casualties demonstrated that Israel’s current military campaign in Gaza was disproportionate to the threat posed by Hamas.
“I don’t know if [the politicians] understand, but the Palestinians have no army, no air force, no navy, not even an airfield,” said Dorothy Zellner, a member of the advocacy group Jewish Voice for Peace. “The Israelis, on the other hand, have super high-tech weaponry. Now, I’m not saying that to be struck by a rocket is a good thing for anybody but the basic root of this problem is the occupation.”
Israel has come under intense pressure to end its latest operation in Gaza. Human Rights Watch recently accused the Israeli military of possibly committing war crimes by targeting civilian structures in the densely populated area and several heads of state publicly questioned Israel’s need to continue its bombing campaign. Meanwhile, thousands of people in cities around the world have participated in demonstrations in the past week against Israel’s military actions.
“I think it shows that there is a large sector of people that are opposed to Israel and policies supporting Israel,” Daniel Meyers, a member of the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said of the global demonstrations. “And I think it’s going to grow and the reason it’s going to grow is because of the inhumanity that is being expressed by the Israeli military. They are bombing people in an occupied country, an illegally occupied country, and I think this is becoming beyond the tolerance of the American population.”
Meyers added that the press conference at City Hall was indicative of the “incestuous relationship” between Israel and the United States. He objected to the U.S. government’s continued financial support of Israel, which receives more American aid than any other country. Israel received more than $3 billion dollars from the United States last year and a significant portion of that money went towards Israel’s military.
“Not another nickel! Not another dime! No more money for Israel’s crimes,” the protestors shouted at their elected officials. Some of them waved signs comparing Emmitt Till, the black teenager found floating in a Mississippi river in 1955, to 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped by Jewish Israelis earlier this month and burned alive. It’s widely believed that Abu Khdeir’s death was retribution for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers in June, which Israel has blamed on Hamas.
After the press conference ended, some of the protestors collected outside the gates on the west side of City Hall and shouted “Shame on you!” and “War criminal!” as their representatives exited onto the street.
“I think it’s really gross to see New York politicians show support for a slaughter that is taking place overseas,” said NYU graduate student Paul Heideman. “Israel is supposedly identified with all these liberal values like democracy and equal rights for its citizens. But I think this show of support for Israel is particularly pernicious in somewhere like New York, which is supposed to be a liberal bastion.”