On Sunday, June 10, a crowd of boisterous activists for the Palestinian cause marked the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War with a rally of the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. According to Phyllis Bennis of the left-wing Institute for Policy Studies, this was a part of an “international day of protests” around the world “for boycotts, sanctions, and divestment” against Israel.
Each speaker studiously avoided acknowledged Israel’s having being forced into the 1967 war, the primarily defensive nature of Israel’s resultant occupation of neighboring Arab lands, or the subsequent refusal of its Arab neighbors to negotiate with Israel.
According to the speakers, Israel’s imperialistic, “illegal and immoral occupation” of the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem has been “racist and brutal” and “flies in the face of everything we stand for as human beings.” Israeli security concerns were dismissed, while several demonstrators touted large portraits of Yasser Arafat.
Dr. Mona El-Farra of the Middle East Children's Alliance claimed that “thousands of Palestinian political prisoners” were languishing in Israeli jails. She also insisted that any resolution to the conflict must include “the right of return” for Arabs. No one balanced this was any expressed concern over the expulsion of Jews from nearby Arab-controlled lands.
Inevitably, Israel was repeatedly identified with apartheid South Africa. Its behavior was also compared to the Holocaust, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and genocides against Native American and Australian aboriginal tribes.
Speakers explained that they chose their location to focus on “the Israeli occupation of this Congress.” After all, speakers explained that the Iraq War was orchestrated by “the strong Zionist lobby” that “is now pushing” for a conflict with Iran (according to Mazin Qumsiyeh of the Palestinian American Congress) and U.S. pro-Israel policies are “the most egregious historical error this country has made” (according to Huwaida Arraf of the International Solidarity Movement).
According Andy Shallal of Iraqi Voices for Peace, Israel brazenly disregards Palestinian lives and the authority of the U.N. “while the U.S. and its allies sit on the side taking their marching orders from Tel Aviv.” Shallal described the U.S. and Israel as plotting a new world order in which “Israel continues to terrorize the region” and anyone who opposes the twin superpowers “will be crushed.”
Kyung Za Yim, President of United Methodist Women (UMW), boasted that her church group was a founding member of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which organized the demonstration along with United for Peace and Justice. She also shared that UMW will be “educating” thousands of church ladies about the conflict this summer.
Ambassador Edward Peck, a former Reagan Administration official and Council for the National Interest Foundation Chairman, urged “not [to] let people talk to you about a ‘conflict,’” as it is simply a matter of “the Jewish jailers” repressing “the Palestinian prisoners.” America’s support for Israel has “removed any claim we may have had to moral high ground” in the world community.
Afif Safieh, chief of the PLO’s Mission to the United States, spoke about the “two Americas.” When “the Ariel Sharons” speak of forming “strategic partnerships” with the U.S. and of their “shared values,” “they have in mind” the America of slavery and Native American genocide. He called the audience to bring out the second America, the one of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and less pro-Israel policies.
Qumsiyeh shared his dream of “a post-Zionist society.” While he claimed that such a new nation would include Jews “who do not believe in exceptionalism,” he gave no hint on how (or if) the basic rights and security of this hated minority would be protected.
A secondary focus of the rally was protesting the Iraq war, with frequent chants of “From Iraq to Palestine, occupation is a crime!” At other times a Green Party official denounced the U.S. Congress for enabling Israel’s “committing war crimes every day.”
In apparent attempt to ward off accusations of anti-Semitism, Jewish leftists were featured prominently in the rally. There were also occasional glimmers of nuance. Ambassador Peck allowed that nobody “should want anything bad to happen to a single Israeli individual.” Rabbi Milgrom stressed that “we have a problem with the Israeli government, but not the Israeli people.” And Tony Bing of the pacifist American Friends Service Committee noted that both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered greatly. But such occasions were relatively few and far between.
The speakers repeatedly celebrated their movement’s alleged strength. Bennis averred that that “we are the face of this country” and that the pro-Israeli counter-protesters “are the ones who are isolated.” Safieh called on the activists to prove in the next Presidential election that it is “no longer politically suicidal” for a candidate to be “pro-Palestinian.”
But despite organizers’ gushing that this was the “largest ever national demonstration against the Israeli occupation,” with support from over 300 organizations, fewer than two thousand were present. They were unable to secure a statement of support (let alone appearance) from a more mainstream political figure than Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
As long as these activists insist on turning a callous blind eye to Israeli concerns while holding to such inflammatory portrayals of Israel and of mainstream American political leaders, their movement’s well-deserved marginalization, at least in this country, will certainly continue.