A coalition of radical left “community groups” held a protest and press conference outside New York’s City Hall on Monday, Jan. 13. The groups were denouncing a scheduled February trip to Israel by 15 members of New York’s City Council. They want the trip cancelled.
Several dozen people showed up to hear speakers denounce Israel for its “counter-terrorism operations that seek to suppress and control Palestinians,” and for its contribution “to the militarization of police in NYC and around the country.”
The trip is being sponsored by New York’ City’s Jewish Community Relations Council and the United Jewish Appeal.
The protesters included many of the standard groups whose lifeblood is demonizing Israel. They included CODEPINK, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
The speakers hammered away at a favorite theme they have been playing over the past few months, linking “disregard for justice,” and racism allegedly found both in American police forces and in Israeli security institutions. Of course the standard canard of Gaza as an “open air prison” and the security barrier as a tool of apartheid were repeatedly raised.
One speaker who calls herself a “human and animal rights social justice attorney,” Bina Ahmad, works at the Staten Island Legal Aid Office which played a role in the legal challenge over Eric Garner’s death at the hands of a New York City police officer.
Ahmad demanded to know whether the politicians were going to tour the separation barrier or the devastation in Gaza. She reportedly analogized Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” to the New York Police Department’s “presence in communities of color.”
“Do not neglect your official responsibilities to our diverse city by touring an apartheid state,” the coalition members had written in a letter to the council members scheduled to be on the trip.
The critics also blasted the sponsor, NYC’s JCRC, which “has helped undermine the basic civil rights and liberties of our city’s Muslim residents.”
City Council members who will be part of the delegation to Israel include Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Treyger, Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, David Greenfield, Rafael Espinal, Darlene Mealy, Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, Corey Johnson, Ritchie Torres, Andrew Cohen, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich, and James Van Bramer.
Egregious misrepresentations of reality were stated as fact by various speakers, including public aid attorneys and academics.
Conor Tomas Reed is an educator and graduate student at the City University of New York. He blathered on about Israel’s “segregated workforce” and “wage discrimination along ethnoreligious lines,” and insisted that those participating in the city council junket were taking an “anti-labor” stand.
David Galarza, a Puerto Rican activist chanted “Puerto Rico, Palestine, Occupation is a crime!” He also compared the 1963 firebombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama in which four little black girls died, with the death of four brothers on a Gaza Beach during this past summer’s Operation Protective Edge.
Photographs of the two bombing incidents were held up as Galarza called out the eight names of the dead children. Problem is, it is still not known how exactly the four Bakr boys died on that Gaza Beach this summer, and what they were doing there, near a munitions cache, during a war.
Here is a portion of the letter sent to the council members in protest of the trip to Israel:
As New Yorkers, we recognize that the struggle for social and racial justice in our own city is deeply connected to that of the Palestinian people. Israel’s callous disregard for international human rights norms and the impunity enjoyed by Israeli police and occupation forces cannot be viewed apart from the near-total lack of accountability mirrored by the NYPD and other police forces as they target communities of color in the United States.
In recent weeks, many of us joined demonstrations to protest the killings of countless Black people by police forces across the country. Members of City Council also protested these killings. However, these gestures are wholly incompatible with participating in a private tour funded by special interests hoping to legitimize Israel’s laws discriminating against its Palestinians citizens and the violence it inflicts upon Palestinians under military occupation. To demonstrate in support of racial justice while participating in a tour of apartheid is a fundamental contradiction.
International law requires Israel to protect the civilian population in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, yet it has repeatedly failed to do so. The world has witnessed Israel’s increasingly horrendous war crimes, from the fatal shootings of protesters in the West Bank5 to the horrific slaughter in Gaza. Strengthening cultural, business, and educational ties to a state engaged in these ongoing transgressions is not a proper goal for our city.
At a time of public outrage over police brutality, participation in a delegation ignoring Israeli policies that inspired and reinforced unjust tactics of the NYPD can only aggravate New Yorkers’ concerns. Any trip in support of Israel conflicts with a concern over domestic police abuses.
And here is a sample of the signatories to the letter:
Jewish Voice for Peace – New York; Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; CUNY for Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine Chapters: Hunter, Pace, NYU, Columbia, CUNY School of Law; Women in Black Union Square; Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism; Librarians and Archivists with Palestine; Center for Constitutional Rights; International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – New York; New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA); Al-Awda NY; The Palestine Right to Return Coalition New York City; Labor Against the War; Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation; Trinity Lutheran Church (Brooklyn); American Muslims for Palestine; National Lawyers Guild, NYC Chapter; West-Park Presbyterian Church; Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER); Coalition International Socialist Organization (ISO); Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)/Organizing Asian Communities; Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC); Park Slope Food Coop Members for BDS; Irish Queers
The nine day trip is scheduled to start on Feb. 15.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus