The maelstrom known as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blown through the nation’s capital, and dozens of activists are taking a breather after weeks of organizing that culminated in several actions and events. While the rallies and pickets were relatively small compared to efforts put forth in powerhouse cities like Chicago and New York, organizers say their reverberations are powerful. What happened in Washington DC this week has changed the course of activism here on the issue of Palestine.
A total of five actions played out from Friday, Nov. 6 through Tuesday. From pushing back against Netanyahu’s invitation to speak before the self-proclaimed “progressive” Center for American Progress, to picketing his meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and a large rally outside the National Building Museum, where the pro-Israel think tank American Enterprise Institute honored the Israeli prime minister, there was a level of cooperation and unity that superseded anything that’s occurred in the past, said Seth Morrison, a 17-year area resident and member of the DC Metro chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.
“The fact that 38 organizations came together shows how our movement (in DC) is strengthening,” he said. “We’re going to talk about how we can do better… how to create an organizing mechanism.”
Morrison was referring to the model that evolved several years ago in Chicago, led by American Muslims for Palestine and the US Palestine Community Network, to create an infrastructure so groups could respond quickly when the need arose. The Chicago Coalition for Justice in Palestine is comprised of several organizations, activist groups and many Students for Justice in Palestine chapters. The coalition can organize a massive rally in days instead of weeks. Now, activists in Washington are considering creating something similar.
“We want to unify to make things easier,” Morrison said.
According to Josh Ruebner, policy director for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the actions directed at the Center for American Progress also had a major impact, even though Netanyahu still received a friendly and open platform to spew his propaganda.
The Arab American Institute and JVP initiated a letter signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals and at least five organizations submitted petitions that collectively garnered more than 26,300 signatures. Two pickets on Tuesday morning and afternoon outside CAP headquarters kept many employees at home.
“The picket was a success,” said Ruebner. “We made it quite clear that it is unacceptable to be ‘progressive except for Palestine’ [PEP] any longer. It is imperative that organizations continue to deny legitimacy to Israeli policies in progressive circles.”
Netanyahu is arguably the most far-right leaning prime minister in Israel’s history. He is also probably the most divisive. Yet his antics also serve to galvanize the activist community. Among the 300 people protesting Monday night across the street from the National Building Museum, where ball gown- and black-tie-clad guests waited in the rain for their chance to rub elbows with the man who unapologetically supports racist policies and apartheid, there was a general sense of victory. Sure, Netanyahu got his platform at CAP and soon the US and Israel will begin to discuss in earnest his request for $5 billion per year in military aid.
But what happened in DC these past few weeks is something that hasn’t happened before. There’s power in the recognition that Muslim, Jewish, Christian, student and social justice groups can come together in common cause for justice for Palestinians.
“The unity that began here is going to continue,” Morrison said. “We are different groups with different aims. … We can build on what we did this week. We can keep this issue in front of Washington.”