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Protesters disrupted NYC City Council in defense of human rights

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On Thursday, Jan. 22nd, Direct Action for Palestine organized a protest at the New York City Council’s stated meeting. People from Jewish Voice for Peace-NY, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Granny Peace Brigade and Boricuas for Palestine participated in this peaceful call on NYC Councilmembers to cancel their 8-day junket to Israel paid for by pro-Israel lobby groups. The trip amounts to uncritical support for Israel’s vast web of racial segregation laws and it’s violent occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Groups calling on the Councilmembers to not go on this trip have asked for meetings with many of the Councilmembers but have either been turned down or not responded to. Bringing the message directly to the Council chambers was a logical next step. The protesters unfurled a banner saying “New York City Council Members – Don’t Tour Apartheid Israel” as well as a Palestinian flag. At several moments, they called out to Councilmembers not to take the trip. One protester, from a family with deaths in the holocaust, called out a sentiment we all share: “Never again means never again for anyone!  Not just Jews.  Israel is an apartheid state.  As a Jew it offends me that you support a country that discriminates and kills other people.“

A few Councilmembers quickly claimed that the protest targeted a resolution memorializing the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, and many media outlets leapt to suggest that protesters were anti-Semitic. That is a disgraceful diversion. In fact, the protest began in the middle of a vote on a long list of resolutions (although it did not target any of them) with a silent unfurling of the banner. You can see for yourself in the NYC Council’s video of the meeting as the Public Advocate calls for the banner to be removed at 58:00. The Auschwitz resolution had been discussed much earlier without disruption. Its vote was about to be recorded, but the protesters had no way of knowing that.

The protest continued two minutes later with another person calling out to Councilmembers not to take the trip. Another person called out 4 minutes after that. A larger group of protesters called out a few minutes later (1:05:40 in the video) and all were removed from the Council Chamber.  It was a good-faith effort to intervene in a human rights crisis, smeared by those who prefer to paper over Israel’s actions.

None of this is a surprise. Every time human rights activists say “Palestine”, someone else says “anti-Semite.” As the links between racist injustice in New York and apartheid in Israel are highlighted by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Israel lobbyists’ project to tar human rights activists as bigots grows more heated. It won’t work, because we are not. We are united against racism in all its forms, in every part of the world, regardless of nationality, race, or religion. Our Councilmembers should be too.

Ann Shirazi

Ann Shirazi is a member of the Granny Peace Brigade.

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Jenny Heinz

Jenny Heinz is a member of the Granny Peace Brigade.

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Brad Taylor

Brad Taylor is a member of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid -NYC.

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18 Responses

  1. DaveS on February 3, 2015, 11:40 am

    The writers of this post want you to believe that they are concerned with the human rights of Palestinians, but Council Member David Greenfield knows better – they are simply upset that Hitler did not finish the job. Watch for yourselves:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGPzoaNVCU

    It is somewhat fascinating to watch Greenfield work himself into a feverish lather culminating in the Hitler charge. It raises the question of whether such pro-Israel politicians and pundits cynically lie and distort or honestly believe the shit they say. Ultimately it may not matter, but I think such a question has to be answered on a case-by-case basis. This guy, despite the insanity of what he is saying, appears sincere to me.

    btw, when I clicked on the link to the video, it did not work.

    • annie on February 4, 2015, 6:29 pm

      omg, what an outrageous speech. i think he’s an opportunist.

  2. RoHa on February 3, 2015, 5:33 pm

    “This guy, despite the insanity of what he is saying, appears sincere to me. ”

    Doubtful. He’s a politician. Politicians are frequently insane, but seldom sincere.

  3. Baruch B on February 3, 2015, 7:31 pm

    I simply want to say that if this was a demonstration organized with the best of intentions it was poorly planned. There is no reason why the demonstration had to go on when there was a resolution being voted on regarding the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I am a founding member of Jewish Voice for Peace and I was quite disappointed with your action.

    I have several questions for the authors.

    1. Do you respect Palestinians and Jews? (This question does not mean you have to respect bad actions of anybody.)

    2. Was there an agenda posted for the Council Meeting in advance or on the same day?

    3. Is there a reason the demonstration had to happen that day?

    4. Did members of the coalition make any attempt to contact Council Members or their staff to see what might be happening at the meeting?

    5. Where you aware of what was being discussed on the Council Floor when you began your demonstration? If not, why not? Why did you continue your demonstration?

    6. Do you feel your conduct should not be subject to question because the Council Members are planning trips to Israel and they are the bad ones?

    In San Francisco JVP I do not think this could happen. We have done work with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and we are very aware of what is going on during a session.

    I should say that friends of my family have been leaning towards JVP and nonetheless were very upset by this action when they learned of it and that New York City JVP people where involved.

    My family are Holocaust survivors and we do not use that to excuse Israel’s actions. Nonetheless we cannot accept a free for all attack on all Jewish concerns. We cannot even accept a nonchalant attitude about all Jewish concerns when it comes to protesting what needs to be protested.

    I suggest you consider the questions above among many more in planning your next actions. If not I suggest you cease political activity.

    The New York City Council trips to Israel needed to be protested and yet you chose the wrong way to do it. You confused your message.

    • DaveS on February 3, 2015, 8:48 pm

      Baruch, how on earth could the protesters have anticipated that the New York City Council would be passing on an Auschwitz resolution? If I had been planning this, it would have been the last thing I thought of. I would have assumed the Council would be doing its usual business. And aren’t you at all troubled that this has been deliberately mis-reported as a protest against the Auschwitz resolution? Isn’t that a far more egregious action?

      As for your question number 1, why do you even ask? How could you possibly suspect the answer is no?

      • Baruch B on February 3, 2015, 9:17 pm

        David, legislative bodies pass commemorative resolutions all the time. They commemorate what their constituents want.

        You missed the point of my questions. One does not plan an event off the top of their head. It is wise to have planning procedures and to know where to investigate. In this case trying to get an agenda and having contact with Council staff.

    • American on February 3, 2015, 9:22 pm

      @ Baruch B

      I think this is a good enough explanation to your complaint.

      ”A few Councilmembers quickly claimed that the protest targeted a resolution memorializing the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, and many media outlets leapt to suggest that protesters were anti-Semitic ”

      Since the memorializing was, as I understand it, not the only thing on the agenda I suggest that you are being overly sensitive.
      I would further suggest that even if it were the only thing on the agenda the ‘current horror’ Israel is inflicting on Palestines takes precedence over memorializing ‘past horrors’ that are past and cannot be changed.

      It is obvious the timing of the protest was simply an opportunity to be heard at a gathering and so activist rightly took advantage of that and was not intended to protest or disrupt any holocaust memorializing.

      I would further suggest you not presume to tell anyone what not to engage in politically and that you personally endeavor to be more like this Jew——>”One protester, from a family with deaths in the holocaust, called out a sentiment we all share: “Never again means never again for anyone! Not just Jews. Israel is an apartheid state. As a Jew it offends me that you support a country that discriminates and kills other people”.

      • RockyMissouri on February 4, 2015, 10:44 am

        Those last few sentences are so incredibly powerful. IMO as an interested person, what better way to honor the victims of that horror…………..

        The protesters are honoring their family members, and every right to be heard….IMO.

  4. CigarGod on February 4, 2015, 8:41 am

    I’d hate for JVP to start planning itself to death.
    It seems Baruch B is ready to quit the revolution.

  5. Emmaia on February 4, 2015, 9:47 am

    People, watch the video. The Mondoweiss link has a typo, but it’s all right here.
    http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=374401&GUID=4E0FDF23-2136-4813-BABB-474E01DA3C46&Options=info#

    The media leapt on (and widely reposted) a YouTube clip from Jewish Press reporter Jacob Kornbluh. It starts several minutes after the disruption Greenfield was complaining about. even that video doesn’t show what has been interrupted — you are just asked to assume that it interrupted a memorial. That’s not true, but WOW have folks taken the bait. Watch the video and see for yourself how ridiculous it is.

    The “memorial” itself, btw, consisted of reading the name of the resolution earlier in the meeting.

    @Baruch – no, the agenda was not available beforehand, and no, Councilmembers were not willing to talk. And to answer your other questions, really just watch the video.

  6. Baruch B on February 4, 2015, 5:22 pm

    Emmaia,

    Yours is the most substantive response to my concerns so far. I still wonder if anyone tried to get an agenda in advance. The resolution is certainly on the agenda link you sent. It would help if you said at what point on the video the incident happens. I got a portion of something. I still think the demonstrators where outmaneuvered at best and I am not satisfied with explanations so far. But you have begun to do some of the work.

    • annie on February 4, 2015, 6:53 pm

      I still think the demonstrators where outmaneuvered at best and I am not satisfied with explanations so far.

      no one owes you an explanation baruch, nothing more or beyond what you can read at the top of the page:

      A few Councilmembers quickly claimed that the protest targeted a resolution memorializing the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, and many media outlets leapt to suggest that protesters were anti-Semitic.

      it appears, by your response and your queries that you have chosen to be in solidarity with the interpretation of those are trying to slander the protestors. why would you do this?

      it sounds very rude to me not to believe their sincerity. to imply they are irresponsible and acting in bad faith. i’m curious why you do not hear what’s being said in good faith. why the assumption protestors did anything wrong. it was almost a 2 hour meeting and there were numerous subjects on the agenda.

      you feign to care so much yet when someone provides you with a video of the entire meeting then you task others to find the moments of the action instead of finding it yourself, as if you are owed something or others time is less valuable than your own.

      • Emmaia on February 4, 2015, 7:04 pm

        Seriously, Baruch — when someone deliberately tells a lie about you, how much work is it your obligation to undertake to refute it? Also, if you read the article, the time code is in there. So no need to be self-righteous about who is or isn’t “doing the work.”

        The saddest thing about this flap over the protest: it really showed, and keeps showing, how tragically easy it is to divert Americans who say they’re interested in Palestine away from dealing with Palestine. Our obsession with avoiding appearances of anti-Semitism is absolutely crippling. At some point we have to stop taking the bait and move on to just objecting to Zionism.

      • annie on February 4, 2015, 7:56 pm

        emmala, i was actually amazingly impressed with the action. from the beginning of the meeting the fallen police officers were the height of the agenda and then other resolutions were introduced, around 51:32 discussion of resolution 548..marking auschwitz,

        then res 544 re..woman right to choose roe vs wade legalization ..abortion ..health care woman equality act 53:40 restrict gov intervention, congress not able to act…

        then the floor asks “any other speakers on any other resolutions another speak 54:27
        peace week resolution”

        house asks “any other speakers?” 55:14

        531 cervical health care treatment to youth hpv cancer, combo co chair a hearing 55:52 cervical anal cancers denial cancers, resolutions important 56:28

        so at this pt we are already over 5 minutes past the introduction of the auschwitz, resolution.

        (which lasted about a minute compared to a LONG TIME dedicated to fallen officers)

        then the chair says “any other” at 56:34 and then “now we vote peace week say aye”

        and this is where i think the protestors might have attempted an intervention but we don’t hear them we only hear the chair ticking off the past resolutions calling for “aye” and the first time we hear the chair say “quiet in chambers” was between

        “opposed abstention congress protect health 57:44…70th anniversary ..escort quiet in chambers, please remove 58:59 MLK” “quiet in chambers salute officers 1:00:58 hero rookies”

        then there is a very loud big gap 1:05 and it picks up with MLK:

        “quiet

        addresssing war in vietnam, were going to clear the shall “occupy” 1:10:02\\ aparthoed clear the hall chambers, clear the balcony,..1:10:26 loud commotion. 1:10:42 wow, really getting loud screaming. 1:11:11 big commotion really loud 1:11:29 palestinian people and you’re going to israel!!! 1:12:14 palestinian lives matter palestinian lives matter (chanting over and over) 1:12:42. clapping

        (check 1:12 27 to hear quiet..israel in microphone)

        congresswoman barren, citing MLK “having some powerful words and we can remember MLK a man who was shunned by many because he was addressing the war in vietnam ” i am sad to say the nation is a supreme culprit ..unjust war vietnam and we are criminals of that war …committed more war crimes as we 1:13:44 not just here in this city but a city across the world our lives begin to end when we become silent and about matter (before us, speaking about protestors) my position is we need an we need an even hands policy ME and palestine in terms of 1:14:16 bringing up the rallying cry for black lives matter. “

        so congresswoman barren’s comments regarding martin’s words referencing the protestors and palestinians , that WENT ON THE RECORD!!! because it really sounded like the chair was not going to recognize the protestors or the action.

        and i didn’t watch/listen long enough to hear the other congressman’s anti semite speech but what is clear is that the protestors did not interrupt the introduction of the auschwitz resolution and what i also think is relevant is that if not on the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz to recognize the other unspoken victims of that war (palestinians) then when? as the protestors said, and it could be heard over the crowd:

        “there’s holocaust going on, they do not speak for all jews 1:09:14 ”

        i’d say it was a very impressive action.

  7. Baruch B on February 4, 2015, 5:56 pm

    Emmaia your video link was fine. I had something else in mind that does not matter now. Thanks for your effort.

  8. Baruch B on February 4, 2015, 7:25 pm

    First of all Annie I made the correction regarding the video request apparently when your message was being posted. Furthermore we do not all have the perfect bourgeois technology or working conditions.

    This demonstration was poorly planned and poorly explained after the fact.

    But of course if Mondoweiss is preaching a kind of imitation Trotskism coupled with demonstrations of temper tantrums in places such as Berlin and New York and claiming that as a politics of hope, I have to disagree. Constructive change will not come by shallow imitation and temper tantrum. If this approach lucks out at all we as a species will just be continuing oppression by other structures.

    • annie on February 4, 2015, 8:01 pm

      i’d like to state categorically that generally when i am sharing my on topic opinion in the comment section i’m speaking for myself, not mondoweiss. and unlike other posters here i’m not versed in “Trotskism” much less “a kind of imitation Trotskism” (or do you mean like this: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/american-kissinger-citizens in the chambers of the Senate Armed Services Committee on global threats? because i LOVED that action too) but i am curious about ..what is this?:

      1. Do you respect Palestinians and Jews? (This question does not mean you have to respect bad actions of anybody.)

      2. Was there an agenda posted for the Council Meeting in advance or on the same day?

      3. Is there a reason the demonstration had to happen that day?

      4. Did members of the coalition make any attempt to contact Council Members or their staff to see what might be happening at the meeting?

      5. Where you aware of what was being discussed on the Council Floor when you began your demonstration? If not, why not? Why did you continue your demonstration?

      6. Do you feel your conduct should not be subject to question because the Council Members are planning trips to Israel and they are the bad ones?

      Were you aware of what was being discussed on the Council Floor (MLK) when they began their demonstration? If not, why not? Why should they not have continued their demonstration? the congresswoman whose resolution was interrupted didn’t seen bothered by it in the least. in fact, she incorporated the sentiments of the protestors into the explanation of intent of martin’s words in her short speech. which is now on the record thank heavens! because the chair sure wasn’t letting them speak.

    • annie on February 4, 2015, 8:21 pm

      is “we do not all have the perfect bourgeois technology or working conditions ” code for anti – imitation Trotskism?

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