2017 Protest Against AIPAC
This year’s protest against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was marked by two rallies, one organized by the Jewish-Americans against settlements group “IfNotNow” and the other organized by Abbas Hamideh of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right To Return Coalition which was co-sponsored by ANSWER Coalition. Both protests ended in front of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where the AIPAC conference is held.
The IfNotNow march preceded the Al-Awada march and was greeted with hostility and violence from the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which the FBI considers a terrorist organization. Some of the JDL protesters attacked 55-year old Palestinian father and professor, Kamel Nayfeh. Dr. Cornel West, long time advocate for the Palestinian cause, was also present but only as a speaker for the IfNotNow rally. IfNotNow carried out a civil disobedience action by chaining themselves to the entrance of the Convention Center and let down banners from inside the Convention.
The Al-Awda march began at noon in front of The White House where speakers addressed topics on the right to return for Palestinians, the Israeli apartheid wall, continued Israeli settlement expansion, Israeli brutality, and the importance of intersectional mobilizing and organizing. The speakers included 5 Broken Cameras director Iyad Burnat, prominent Australian activist Robert Martin, Rabbi Dovid Feldman of the Orthodox Jewish sect Neturei Karta and a member of Jews United Against Zionism, and a member of Students for the Justice in Palestine.
Hundreds of demonstrators who participated traveled from London, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Chicago, New Haven, Memphis, San Francisco and elsewhere. According to Al Jazeera’s AJ+, this year also included the largest presence of Jewish American to date because of the efforts of IfNotNow. In attendance were members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Antifascists, Answer Coalition, Code Pink, Students for the Justice in Palestine, Veterans for Peace, and Neturei Karta.
While there was a huge Jewish American turnout which was greatly appreciated and felt by the Palestinian-American community, Hamideh felt as though it was disconnected and uncoordinated with Al-Awad’s rally.
“This was an absolutely 100 percent Palestinian-led rally. We are excited that more Jews are joining, but this is, in fact, Palestinian initiated. We have been planning and organizing this rally for months, and these are the results,” Hamideh said. “A small group of gatekeepers that never reached out to the Palestinian-led efforts decided to capitalize on our rally and went to greet AIPAC before we arrived and jeopardized their members who got violently beat up by the JDL. When our massive contingent arrived from The White House, the violent JDL were hiding behind the police before they fled our rally. My advice to the groups who attempted to steal the attention away from the Palestinians and their supporters, next time consult with people organizing for over 20 years.”
Although there were some who wished that there had been more coordination between the two groups, others appreciated their efforts and believed that mobilizing against AIPAC should be both Jewish and Palestinian-led. Dema Assaf, demonstrator from Memphis, “thought the IfNotNow protest was tastefully done. [She] loved their message and their optimism toward the situation. It is refreshing as a Palestinian to see people in the American Jewish community as passionate as we are about the current situation. [She] thought it was unique especially when they incorporated uplifting songs into their protests.”
After being thanked along many other Palestinian-Americans by a few IfNotNow protesters, Assaf replied to them by stating that their presence meant more to the Palestinians than any other group. She believes, like many others, that to end the occupation and systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians Jews and Palestinians must resist together. This year’s protest marks one step closer to that reality.