The easiest thing in the world for New York politicians–scratch that, any politician–is voicing support for Israel. It helps their fundraising and vote totals, and anything short of cheering on Israel’s military is a wish for negative media coverage.
But New Yorkers who are fed up with Israel’s assaults on Gaza, and the political class’ full-throated support for operations that kill scores of Palestinian civilians, are trying their damnedest to make Israel/Palestine contested ground. On Monday, dozens of protesters gathered outside the gates of City Hall to voice their anger at New York politicians’ show of support for Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” which has killed over 200 people, the vast majority of them civilians.
The protesters’ target was a “New York Stands With Israel” press conference organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York (JCRC)–a powerhouse establishment group–the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York and the Jewish Caucus of the New York City Council. Attendees included Congressional Democrats like Charlie Rangel, Jerry Nadler and Eliot Engel; State Senators and Assemblyman; various City Council members and Ido Aharoni, Israel’s Consul General in New York.
Vice‘s Michael Tracey, whom Nadler called an “ass” for asking about U.S. culpability in the Gaza death toll, has an colorful account of the scene:
One by one, these officials uncritically repeated talking points disseminated by the Israeli government…
[E]merging NYC power-broker David Greenfield, bemoaned the lack of “context” in which the current conflict is depicted by Israel’s critics. Agreeing with the need for additional context, I asked him whether invoking the specter of rockets raining down on Manhattan to justify the current actions of the Israeli government was also devoid of context, given that New York City is not occupying, embargoing, or dropping bombs on a neighboring people.
As Greenfield began to answer the question, a particularly obnoxious New York State Assemblyman, Phillip Goldfeder of Queens, sauntered over. Goldfeder interrupted the conversation by cackling about my concern for Palestinian civilian deaths. When I pointed out that children getting extinguished in the dead of night under questionable pretext is a serious matter, the assemblyman escalated said cackling. Even Councilman Greenfield, who was in the process of defending the Israeli government’s actions and is by all accounts a devout backer of Israel, appeared put off by Goldfeder’s conduct.
As the politicians stepped up to the mic one by one to voice support for Israel, protesters outside the “stand with Israel event”–they weren’t allowed in and demonstrators were removed from City Hall grounds–successfully made their voices heard inside the press conference. Indeed, much of the press coverage of the event led with reports on the demonstrators.
“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,” Harlem Democratic kingmaker Rangel said at the rally, as the New York Observer’s Ross Barkan reported. After the event was over, City Councilman David Greenfield told reporters that “we had a pro-terrorism rally going on out there.”
This headline-capturing protest comes after New York activists tried to put New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in the hot seat over his remarks to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in which he said being “a defender of Israel” is part of his mayoral job description. De Blasio is often described as representing a new era of Democratic Party politics, one of unabashed progressivism. That progressivism has been wholly absent when it comes to Israel/Palestine. But the activists that gathered outside of City Hall, and that criticized him when he spoke to AIPAC, are at the very least trying to make full-throated support for Israel a controversial position in New York–a surely gargantuan task.