On Sunday, Oct. 8, one day after Hamas launched its deadly assault on Israel, pro-Palestinian activists held a rally at Times Square that also brought out counter-protesters in support of Israel. Behind barricades on opposite sides of West 43rd Street, the two groups loudly expressed their positions.
At one point a nondescript young male of color on the Palestinian side — who carried no signs and wore nothing that indicated his political position — waved his cellphone so that people on the other side of 43rd Street would see it. On it there was an image of a swastika.
A pro-Israel protester named Stuart Meissner captured the provocateur’s action and soon tweeted two photos, stating that the pro-Palestine activists were “showing their true colors.” The NY Post then ran Meissner’s photo on its cover on Monday, Oct. 9. A video posted at the time by the Daily Mail captured the same incident.
It’s tempting to say that the “rest is history” — but the fallout has not yet ended. For at least the next two weeks, the NY Post kept highlighting the swastika in order to denounce pro-Palestine protests. So did the mayor the tabloid helped elect, as well as a certain Congressman from the Bronx, among many others.
More specifically, the smear campaign targeted the Democratic Socialists of America. The day prior to the rally, the NYC chapter of the DSA tweeted an invite to the action that expressed support for Palestine and made no mention of the Hamas-initiated mass violence. The organization did not co-sponsor the Times Square event, and none of its members took the mic.
The tone of the rally shocked many people across the political spectrum. Even though Hamas had just killed more than 1,400 Israelis, speakers treated it like a World Cup victory celebration.
The Post seized the opportunity to tarnish the DSA, linking the group to the speakers at the protest as well as the guy who flashed the swastika. On Oct. 10, the DSA issued a statement apologizing for the “timing and tone” of the rally invite. This was insufficient for Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx), who tweeted — somewhat hyperbolically — that the statement’s failure to condemn Hamas showed that the DSA was “despicable, detestable, disgraceful and disgraced.”
Undeterred, DSA activists including Assemblymembers Zohran Mamdani and Marcela Mitaynes participated in protests against Israeli atrocities organized by Jewish Voice for Peace held outside of Senator Chuck Schumer’s apartment building in Park Slope on Friday, Oct. 13. In so doing, the leftist insurgents challenged New York’s most powerful Democrat quite literally on his home turf.
The following Monday morning, Mayor Adams kicked off the week by renewing the slurs against the DSA. “You had the DSA and others carrying swastikas and calling for the extermination of Jewish people” following the Hamas attacks, Adams stated on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, offering no evidence regarding the DSA’s position.
Like Schumer, Governor Kathy Hochul and Torres, Adams failed to denounce the attendees at a pro-Israel rally who espoused genocidal rhetoric against Palestinians.
Why All The DSA-Bashing?
Let’s return for a moment to the singular swastika sighting that Adams multiplied. As The Indypendent goes to press, no one has yet identified the culprit. We thus do not know anything about his background and actual political affiliations or why he sought to inflame hostilities at the Times Square rally. Whether he acted as an agent provocateur certainly cannot be ruled out at this point.
But for Adams, Torres and the Post, the absence of evidence was of little concern. The Post, of course, is the house organ of the 1%. Yet two mainstream Democrats were happy to join with the right-wing outlet in demonizing the socialists. The question remains, why?
For starters, until the DSA’s emergence in electoral politics five years ago, uncritical support for Israel was the default position of nearly all New York City elected officials, regardless of party. In 2014, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries — channeling segregationist George Wallace — famously declared “Israel today. Israel tomorrow. Israel forever.” Torres, meanwhile, has received considerable campaign contributions from AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group.
The DSA is clearly not in Israel’s corner. In response to Adams’ smear on MSNBC, over 400 Jewish members of the DSA signed a letter demanding that the mayor apologize. And on Friday, Oct. 20, the DSA sponsored a large midtown march calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, at which several more of the group’s elected officials joined Mamdani and Mitaynes. No swastika sightings were reported.
The bullseye on the DSA’s back nonetheless seems disproportionate to the group’s actual power. Eleven combined seats in the New York legislature and the city council plus close ties with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens), who is a member of the organization, is certainly not nothing. But while they have bully pulpits, none of the DSA electeds control powerful committees at this point.
The DSA’s stance on Israel is not their only challenge to the status quo, however. The group’s advocacy for tenants challenges the real-estate interests accustomed to buying off pols from both parties; their support for criminal justice reform threatens the law enforcement gravy train; and the DSA’s climate change initiatives disrupt business as usual.
The DSA also does not answer to the New York Democratic Party’s neoliberal leadership, which includes Schumer, Jeffries, Hochul and Adams. The threat is both generational and ideological. Perhaps the insurgent idealists occupy so much space in the heads of the mostly Baby Boomer party brass because they expose the emptiness of the mainstream Democrats’ agenda.