On Saturday, October 25th, several thousand people protested in San Francisco, the largest demonstration in the Bay Area since April 12th. It was a sister demonstration to one occurring that same day in Washington, D.C. While the protest was purportedly against the presence of American troops in Iraq, those stumbling onto the protest by accident might be forgiven for thinking it was really against Israel. The Palestinian flags scattered liberally among the crowd, the keffiyehs on many of the organizers, the plethora of speakers from pro-Palestinian organizations - all the evidence indicates the protest organizers want the Jews out of Israel as badly as they want the Americans out of Iraq. The comparison is hardly fair; unlike our troops, the Israelis have nowhere to return to. That didn’t stop the marchers from chanting as they marched - “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” The slogan belongs to the terrorist group Hamas.
When I arrived at San Francisco’s Civic Center, a small group of folk singers were trying to stir up an anemic crowd with a few protest songs - as one put it, ‘the only solution’s a new revolution.’ People did not seem particularly enthusiastic about that revolution’s potential. They milled about between the literature tables of various communist groups, and bought t-shirts from vendors not willing to let anti-Americanism get in the way of making a buck. One man in a fez wandered through the crowd waving a large North Korean flag; every attendee with a Che Guevara t-shirt picked that day to wear it. American flags were flown, too - all either defaced in some manner, or hung upside down. But the most common flag was the Palestinian one. The International Solidarity Movement, well known for defending the homes of Palestinian suicide bombers.
The march was organized by two of the largest of this spring’s anti-war coalitions: the communist Workers World Party-controlled International ANSWER, and long-time Communist Party activist Leslie Cagan’s United for Peace and Justice. However, the latter group was barely visible. Two representatives, Andrea Buffa and Samina Fahim, addressed the crowd; a few small United for Peace and Justice banners were carried in the protest march. International ANSWER was clearly running the show. The banner at the front of the rally belonged to them. The banners strung behind the stage belonged to them. All but a few speakers were drawn from International ANSWER’s friends and allies. And the anti-Israel stance was unmistakably theirs. Earlier this year, United for Peace and Justice hesitated to ally themselves with ANSWER, because they disagreed with some of ANSWER’s platform; in particular, the way many within ANSWER did not recognize Israel’s right to exist. By doing so, United for Peace and Justice attempted to portray itself as more ‘moderate’ than the other anti-war groups. They caved on this and allied with ANSWER in recent months; now, thanks to their alliance with ANSWER, all of their claims to be moderate are void.
Speaker after speaker stood up to denounce the President, denounce America, and denounce Israel. Ban al-Wardi of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee stood up to proclaim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and America’s presence in Iraq were closely linked. He triumphantly declared that both America and Israel were paying a heavy price, and that the Palestinians and Iraqis had a legitimate right to ‘resist’. That they do so through terrorism didn’t seem to bother him a bit. He also claimed the Israelis were ‘ethnically cleansing’ the Palestinians, and that here in America, the Attorney General was engaged in the ‘Israelization’ of the justice system. One would think that’d be a good thing, thanks to Israel’s vigorous struggle against terrorism, but al-Wardi was staunchly opposed to this fight. Speakers from the Bay Area Iranians for Peace and Justice and the Free Palestinian Alliance echoed his message - the Palestinians, like the Iraqis, could oppose Americans and Israelis by any means necessary. While none of them mentioned suicide bombings or other acts of terrorism, the implication was clear.
Other speakers went even further in their anti-Jewish rhetoric. Zulma Oliveras, a radical Puerto Rican activist and a member of the Committee of 98 for a Free Puerto Rico, openly denigrated the importance of the Holocaust. ‘We must stop the lie that only one holocaust has happened,’ she announced - as if the situation of the indigenous people in North America or the situation of Palestinians in Israel was remotely like the systematic Nazi genocide. Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party-controlled Not In Our Name project made America sound like the monster, leading the crowd in a pledge - “we will not stop until all of us are free from your bloodthirsty domination.”
Compared to the average speaker’s anti-capitalist rhetoric, the marquee speakers were relatively sedate. Former Democratic congressman Cynthia McKinney gave a speech strange in its inconsistency. First, she demanded the President better support the soldiers in the military, but then demanded the $87 billion in support be revoked. She went on to claim the Republican Party was winning elections through race-baiting and interfering with the rights of minorities to vote, and criticized the media for not telling the public the ‘truth’ - all while the TV cameras rolled. In short, it was a typical left-Democratic speech, blaming everyone for their failure except themselves. Fellow headline speaker Danny Glover screamed himself hoarse, calling America an ‘empire’ and assuring the crowd they were ‘speaking truth to power’.
Although McKinney encouraged people to vote - presumably for the Democrats - to defeat President Bush in 2004, no one should believe these protests help the Democratic Party. Demonstrations like the one I witnessed in San Francisco aren’t going convince any undecided voters or sway any votes away from the Republicans, thanks to the open extremism of the speakers and organizers. The majority of the speakers at the rally criticized the Democrats as much as the Republicans. The folk singers who welcomed the crowd sung about ‘hypocrite Democratic bull;’ speaker after speaker claimed the Democrats were equally to blame for the war in Iraq.
International Socialist Organization leader Todd Chretien, Peace and Freedom Party activist Carl Muhammad, and Workers World Party candidate for congress Leilani Dowell all encouraged the crowd to abandon the Democrats for anti-capitalist politics. Green Party San Francisco mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez and recent California candidate for governor Peter Camejo were both there to promote the Green Party; Camejo noted with relish that Nancy Pelosi, the local Democratic congressman, both applauded President Bush’s State of the Union speeches and voted for the Patriot Act. Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Childrens Alliance blamed the election of both President Bush and Governor Schwarzenegger on the Democratic Party, who didn’t listen to its left-wing. All of the above speakers really do seem to believe Americans would support their radical plans for the reconstruction of society, if only the Democratic Party would adopt them; this belief, after the 2002 Congressional elections and the recent California gubernatorial election, can only be described as delusional.
The true distance between the communist speakers and the general public is obvious, when you consider who they’re planning on running for President - according to Peace and Freedom Party activist Carl Muhammad, the Peace and Freedom Party’s 2004 presidential slate’s made up of two convicted cop killers, Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal. It’s no wonder the only Democratic presidential candidate with a significant support at the San Francisco protest was far-left fringe figure Dennis Kucinich; in Washington that same day, the only Democratic presidential candidate speaking was racial demagogue Al Sharpton. With opponents like that, the Bush administration has nothing to fear; whoever attaches themselves to these steadily shrinking protests will only get dragged with them to irrelevance.
If International ANSWER had its way, you’d never know the protests were shrinking. They routinely exaggerate the number of attendees, and last weekend was no exception. On Saturday in San Francisco, International ANSWER claimed twenty thousand marched in the streets, but the actual number was far closer to five. Between the speeches, master of ceremonies and International ANSWER boss Elias Rashmawi repeatedly lied to the crowd about the size of the sister mobilization taking place in Washington, D.C. First, he claimed fifty thousand. Then, eighty thousand. Finally, one hundred thousand. The actual numbers? Even according to other radical leftists, twenty thousand at most. The New York Times, hardly a center of conservative journalism, put the number at only ‘over ten thousand’.
It was obvious to anyone at the San Francisco protest that the organizers didn’t get the number they’d hoped for. The masters of ceremonies repeatedly begged the protestors to move forward and gather around the stage, filling the large pockets of empty space. Once, the reason for this undignified pleading was stated directly - the protestors needed to come forward so the television cameras at the stage could show how many of them were there. In other words, they feared looking unimpressive in the eyes of the media. In the spring’s protests, this wheedling was unnecessary - the site of the final rally was packed, often standing room only. International ANSWER claimed that these protests marked the revival of the anti-war movement. Don’t be fooled. By any objective standards, they were an embarrassing failure.The protests continue to shrink. The organizers are forced to lie wildly about their size and strength. Can we finally ignore this small and isolated movement of extremists? It’d be tempting, but it’d be a mistake. Their continual denigration of the Jewish state of Israel offers new and ever greater opportunities for anti-Semites. As the speakers gave their speeches, men with openly bigoted messages stalked the crowd. “I want you to die for Israel,” said the sign of one man in an Uncle Sam costume; on his lapel was an Israeli flag, the Star of David replaced with a swastika. The American left is already all too willing to excuse Jew-hatred, as long it’s hidden behind a cloak of ‘anti-Zionism.’ How long before they start excusing violence against the Jews, hidden behind a cloak of ‘anti-Zionist direct action’? Americans can’t afford to wait and find out. Anti-Semitism, like other forms of bigotry, have largely been defeated in America; we can’t let it sneak back in through the back door, carried by the very ‘progressives’ who used to fight it. The bigots who attempt to link the abolition of Israel to other, left-wing causes must be exposed and condemned at every turn.