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.