From March 1-3, 2020, I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. on a press pass. As part of my coverage of the conference, I spent nearly four hours interviewing, taping, and photographing anti-Israel protesters who had gathered outside the venue.

Though their chants of “Judaism, yes! Zionism, no!” might have been meant to convey a rejection of anti-Semitism, the protesters’ statements and behavior both during and after the rally shows how deeply and often anti-Jewish hatred informs anti-Israel worldviews.

Table of Contents

A. Introduction: “The Jews” Should “Beg Forgiveness”

B. Background on Prior Anti-AIPAC  Protests

  1. 2015 – Hezbollah Flag Flies
  2. 2016 – Physical Attack
  3. My Visits to Other Anti-Israel Events
  4. Abbas Hamideh and the Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition

C. At the protest

  1. At the White House
  2. Outside the Convention Center
    • A Small Crowd Overall
    • New Conspiracy Theory
    • Melding anti-Jewish Ideologies
    • Holocaust and Hitler Threats
    • Charges of Dual Loyalty

D. Aftermath – Denial of Responsibility

E. Conclusion – The “Anti-Zionist, not Anti-Semitic” Sham

A. Introduction: “The Jews” Should “Beg Forgiveness”

Like many veteran attendees of the annual AIPAC conference, usually held at the sprawling Walter E. Washington Center in northwest D.C., I have learned to expect packs of anti-Israel demonstrators to gather every year during the event. They usually wave Palestinian flags, chant familiar slogans through bullhorns, and brandish signs and banners inscribed with various accusations about the supposed sins of the Jewish State.

The 2020 AIPAC conference was the sixth I’ve attended, but the first I attended as a member of the press. So on the first day of this year’s conference—Sunday, March 1—I decided that instead of ignoring the usual anti-Israel demonstrations, I would visit and observe the protests, talk with the protesters, and ask them to explain their ideas in their own words.

At their rally, I met and spoke with several of the group: young and old, male and female, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and secular, and several who identified as Palestinian. My conversations with each of them were enlightening, but perhaps none more so than my exchange with two keffiyeh-clad American women, one of whom claimed Palestinian ancestry. They were both vehement and emotional in their replies to my questions, and insisted that Israel was to blame for the sorry state of Palestinian affairs. Neither seemed to notice when the other accused “Jews” of barbarism, but both seemed utterly convinced of their own moral superiority.

During our conversation, I mostly listened quietly, but eventually did ask them both what they believed must be done to bring about peace.

At that, one of them let it slip. Calling Israel an “illegal country in the first place“, she subsequently declared,

the Jews should get on their knees and beg for forgiveness for what they’ve done to the Palestinians since 1948.”

She continued:

They’ve ethnically cleansed villages. They massacred 700,000 people.

Her compatriot (who had claimed Palestinian Arab ancestry) added,

I think they feel bad. I think that’s why they’re so aggressive a lot of the time.

It did not seem to occur to either of these women that they had both condemned “the Jews” rather than “the Zionists” or “the Israelis”. At no time did either of them amend the sentiment, though one of them later pointedly referred to “the Zionists” because “not all Jews are Zionists”. You can see a short excerpt of this exchange below.

[Video also here]

My conversation with these women continued for much longer than the short clip above shows. Indeed, even after the woman on the left wandered away, I continued to talk with the other (and more protesters besides). Full videos of my interactions with these protesters may be found here.

As my accumulated footage of the event shows, these particular comments do not represent an isolated incident at the anti-AIPAC protest—or among so-called anti-Zionist protesters in general.

B. Background On Prior Anti-AIPAC Protests

1. 2015 – Hezbollah Flag Flies

We’ve covered anti-AIPAC marches and gatherings before, including at the 2015 Policy Conference, where LI’s exclusive video showed protesters raising the Hezbollah flag. On that occasion, LI writer Amy Miller wrote:

The nasty weather didn’t stop a group of around 60 anti-Israel activists from storming the steps of the Washington Convention Center and blocking at least one entrance to the conference grounds. Code Pink and other anti-Israeli groups went into a frenzy against AIPAC, the “Israel lobby,” and what they believe is the “Apartheid” State of Israel.

I also saw harassment of men, women, and children who had done nothing to deserve it except make the mistake of revealing their conference badge before they reached the door. Those who were obviously religious Jews (based on their head coverings, clothing, and facial hair) got it worse.  There were shouts of “Go Home” hurled at the attendees…

At the door to the convention center, several people blocked the door.  This included Ariel Gold and Beth Harris, the two women leading the movement to convince Greenstar Food Coop in Ithaca (NY) to boycott certain Israeli products, as we have previously covered.

Gold and a few others rushed and tried to block the door, and were arrested when they refused to leave…

I myself attended the 2015 AIPAC policy conference as part of my work at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA), and captured images of the protesters with their Hezbollah flags. My photos also showed other protesters holding signs reading “Israel couldn’t act like PUNKS without U.S. support” and “U.S. politicians are Israel’s bitch”. I remember other protesters at the demonstration behaving just as viciously as Amy described; indeed, as I was taking photos of the rally, one young female protestor pointed at me and screamed, “go back to Europe!”

Photo by Samantha Mandeles March 2015

Photo by Samantha Mandeles March 2015

[Protesters gather outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during AIPAC’s 2015 policy conference.]

2. 2016 – Physical Attack

LI also covered the 2016 anti-AIPAC protest, where a Policy Conference attendee was reportedly beaten by a protester. Those protests turned ugly, with demonstrators screaming profanities at conference participants, and multiple verbal altercations between the two groups. We noted,

Today was a rally for Palestine, and the marchers (200-300 based on the videos posted online) marched to the AIPAC conference location where protesters heckled people trying to enter. There also were the usual Code Pink antics, such as trying hard to get arrested by blocking doors

3. My Visits to Other Anti-Israel Events

By now, I’m no stranger to anti-Israel protests. In June 2019, I covered actions by American Muslims for Palestine, Friends of Sabeel North America, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights in their quest to disrupt the annual Christians United for Israel conference. You can read my coverage of those actions in Investigation: Anti-Israel groups plan disruption of Christians United for Israel Annual (CUFI) SummitAnti-Israel groups lock down planning for disruption inside Christians United For Israel Summit; VIDEO: Anti-Israel Protesters Surround and Try To Intimidate Journalist Outside CUFI Summit; and Investigation: How anti-Israel groups tried to turn failure at CUFI Summit into social media success.

In November, I journeyed to Chicago to attend the annual American Muslims for Palestine conference, from which I was expelled for the sin of Sitting Quietly and Taking Notes While Zionist. You can read about that event in Fearing Negative Coverage, ‘American Muslims for Palestine’ Conference Ejects Legal Insurrection Reporter and Rep. Rashida Tlaib Keynotes ‘American Muslims for Palestine (AMP)’ Conference Devoted to Destroying Israel.

At both the counter-CUFI events and the AMP conference, I was immediately recognized, identified as a Zionist, and screamed at or forced to leave. This time, I hoped that I could stay at the event long enough to talk with some of the activists—who were brought together by an organization called the Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition.

al-awda AIPAC 2020 protest flyer

4. Abbas Hamideh and the Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition

Regular readers of LI may have seen our previous coverage of the Al-Awda Right of Return Coalition. As we’ve written before,

Al-Awda is a leading anti-Israel campaigner that views Zionism as “inherently racist” and is unwilling to accept Israel’s existence. It’s promoted terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah; equated Judaism with Nazism; and disseminated antisemitic conspiracies about Israel’s involvement with ISIS.

The group is led by notorious anti-Israel agitator and Rashida Tlaib acolyte, Abbas Hamideh. We’ve written about him as well:

After her swearing-in, Tlaib dined with Abbas Hamideh, “a ‘Palestinian right of return’ activist who has called Israel a ‘terrorist entity.’ Hamideh has also tweeted that Israel has a “delusional ISIS-like ideology” and that the creation of the country was a ‘crime.’”

Moreover, NGO Monitor notes:

Al Awda justifies Palestinian resistance against Israel, and its general coordinator Salman Abu Sitta defends Hamas rockets, saying “they are throwing their home-made projectiles on their own land, at its occupiers, in a symbolic gesture to assert their right for their homes in the occupied land.” He blames Israel for launching the Six-Day War (1967) “to grab more Arab lands.” Al Awda states that “the racist state of Israel… engages in a genocidal project to eliminate the indigenous Arab people of Palestine,” and claims that the problem of Palestinian refugees is the result of Israel’s “systematic policy of ethnic dispossession and elimination.” [Co-founder Mazen] Qumsiyeh accuses Israeli soldiers of acting “like Nazi guards in various situations,” and refers to the Palestinians as the “victims of Israeli colonialism” and the “apartheid wall.” Qumsiyeh is a proponent of a “one-state solution.”

C. At the Protest

I arrived soon after the event began as a small rally across from the White House.

1. At the White House

Though Al-Awda had taken the lead in organizing the rally, the gathering also included about a dozen members of the tiny, fringe ultra-orthodox Jewish sect known as the Neturei Karta; a few students from at least one D.C.-area Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter; a smattering of self-proclaimed Zionist-turned-anti-Zionist Jews; several representatives of the ANSWER coalition; and assorted other anti-Israel activists of various “anti-imperialist”, “anti-capitalist”, or “human rights” persuasions.

Photo by Samantha Mandeles March 1 2020

[Anti-AIPAC demonstrators march from the White House to the convention center. I snapped this photo from within the rallying group, which makes it look as though the crowd is much larger than it was.]

One participant held a sign that doubled-down and even embellished Ilhan Omar’s conspiratorial claim that AIPAC pays U.S. congresspeople to support Israel.

All about the benjamins 1
Another participant and featured speaker erected a display with dozens of placards. Some of his signs implicated the “murderous Zionist death cult” in a number of crimes worldwide; one of his posters emphasized the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Israel purposefully attacked the American vessel U.S.S. Liberty in 1967.
photo by samantha mandeles march 1 2020

Alex VanNess of the Clarion Project reported on the speeches during the White House portion of the event:

Several speakers who took the microphone spent their time defining Judaism in an effort to justify why their anti-Semitism was not really anti-Semitism.

Eric Resnick of Jewish Voice for Peace Cleveland, who was carrying a sign, “Real Jews are not Zionist,” spoke to the crowd:

“Zionists are liars. AIPAC is a terrorist organization. AIPAC commits war crimes … AIPAC has been meddling in US elections since the 1950s.”

Resnick then accused the “Israel lobby” of buying the White House and Congress. He concluded by saying, “Zionists aren’t real Jews!”

Members of the minuscule fringe anti-Zionist Jewish orthodox group, Neturei Karta, carried signs, passed out flyers and gave speeches claiming they are the only “authentic” voices of religious Judaism.

Another speaker, Richard Siegel of New Jersey, spent his time justifying his actions by protesting DC’s Holocaust Museum. Siegel spent a lot of time trying to convince rally participants that the Holocaust really did happen before claiming, “Holocaust education basically serves Zionism.”

After about an hour of speeches at the White House, the group marched down a busy street to the convention center, blocking traffic all the way. (More than one car honked in frustration at the subsequent delays.)

photo by samantha March 2020

2. Outside the Convention Center

Small Crowd Overall

Once at the convention center, the protesters set up shop against the bright orange barriers surrounding the entrances. All told, they spent hours in the street outside the building shouting at any AIPAC attendees who emerged.

photo by Samantha Mandeles March 1 2020

[My wide-angle snapshot of the rally from atop the convention center stairs shows that the rally was sparsely populated in comparison to years prior.]

New Conspiracy Theory

Beyond the main mass, other protesters milled around in small groups holding signs and shouting. One bizarre sign accused that “[Jeffrey] Epstein [Harvey] Weinstein work for Isreal [sic]”.
photo by samantha mandeles March 2020

Melding anti-Jewish Ideologies

Perhaps even more bizarre, I recorded another protester—a young white man—spewing an odd mix of White Supremacist, traditional Christian, and Black Hebrew Israelite anti-Semitic ideology at the Jewish Israeli activist Rudy Rochman. (Rudy has also made a video of his own interactions with some of the anti-AIPAC bunch. Watch it here.)  In my recording just below, the man claims,
“I speak on behalf of all Europeans and all Americans, whether they like it or not, I speak on behalf of the entire white race when I tell you that I want you and your people out of all white nations now. We don’t want you…You stabbed us in the back, and you lied to us, and you fleeced us with your usury.”
In the next clip, he continues with a classic anti-Semitic trope:
“You killed our lord and savior and you laugh about it! And you brag about it!”
Finally, he echoes Black Hebrew Israelite claims that modern Jews are not descended from the ancient Hebrews:
“You know who I am. You know who Jesus was…I’m saying I am a descendent of Jesus and Moses and the Hebrews, which you are not. You are of Cain. You’re an Edomite. You’re Esau. It says in your own Jewish encyclopedia that you are of Esau, that modern Jews are Edomites…”
(For comparison with the video above, below we’ve included is a typical example of Black Hebrew Israelite anti-Semitism.)
http://truenation.org/flyers/#

[An example of a printable flyer that appears on a Black Hebrew Israelite website, pushing the idea that “white people”, including modern Jews, are “Edomites, the children of Esau.” Note the example of a “white” religious Jew on the bottom right side panel. Screenshot from True Nation, December 2019.]

Holocaust and Hitler Threats

Meanwhile, bystanders and other reporters caught further examples of protester bigotry. Journalist Ford Fisher caught one protester screaming Holocaust-related threats at conference goers. Fisher chronicled his observations in a long Twitter thread (archived here).
Others noted that Abbas Hamideh and his fellow protestors seemed to approve of these threats.
https://twitter.com/kweansmom/status/1234279498599878656

(Click here to watch this clip on Twitter)

Charges of Dual Loyalty

Fisher also recorded clips of protesters threatening AIPAC attendees with physical violence and insinuations about dual loyalty to Israel.

 

Indeed, in footage I captured, a man who appears to be Abbas Hamideh thundered into a megaphone,

“If you love Israel so much, why are you in America?” 

A few minutes later, Hamideh added,

“Do not think that you can fool the American public by continuing to lobby here with AIPAC and lobby the Israeli terrorist entity in Palestine…We will wake up every single American and we will make sure that they know you are here to lobby terrorism against the Palestinian people…You are here because you want war. You want war against Iran. You want war against Palestine. You want war against Suriya [Syria]. You want war against the entire region and we are here to stop you because you want the American military to continue your battle. You want Americans to die in the region and we are here to stop your bloodshed, to stop the terrorism that you continue to do, to make sure every American knows that you want their children to die for Israel. You want American children to die for Zionism, and we will stop you.”

D. Aftermath – Denial of Responsibility

In the days following the AIPAC conference and the protests against it, Hamideh and his allies have posted repeated hollow denials that their rally, and the larger anti-Israel movement, are anti-Semitic.

In fact, Hamideh has attempted to distance his protest from the black-clad protester screaming Holocaust threats, calling the taunts “Anti-Jewish” and claiming that the man was a “professional provocateur”.

On Twitter, Hamideh supporters have chimed in, agreed, and even accused AIPAC of planting the man to undermine the protest.

 

https://twitter.com/LoganxartX/status/1234447662360989696

[Both Hamideh’s and the official Al-Awda Twitter accounts retweeted a supporter’s claim that AIPAC paid the man to issue anti-Jewish threats.]

Hamideh’s denials have continued despite Clarion Project analyst Alex VanNess’ footage showing the “provocateur” embracing Al-Awda rally co-organizer Rami Ibrahim.

Other Hamideh supporters have echoed the claim that the man was a plant, asserting that “such stupid language is not tolerated in pro-Palestinian demonstrations…we’re #AntiZionist” [sic].

 

http://archive.is/nQWLG

Meanwhile, Hamideh and his comrades seem so inured to instances of bigotry within their movement that they do not seem to notice when they themselves promote even glaringly obvious examples.

Though I searched for condemnations of other examples of the rally’s anti-Semitism by the Twitter users insisting the “provocateur” was a plant and that the movement is simply “anti-Zionist”, I could find none.

E. Conclusion – The “Anti-Zionist, not Anti-Semitic” Sham

In 2004, the late, great Dr. Robert Wistrich (a prolific and preeminent scholar of Jewish history and anti-Semitism) presented a written statement at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He wrote,

Anti-Zionism has become the most dangerous and effective form of anti- Semitism in our time, through its systematic delegitimization, defamation, and demonization of Israel. Although not a priori anti-Semitic, the calls to dismantle the Jewish state, whether they come from Muslims, the Left, or the radical Right, increasingly rely on an anti-Semitic stereotypization of classic themes, such as the manipulative “Jewish lobby,” the Jewish/Zionist “world conspiracy,” and Jewish/Israeli “warmongers.”

…On the far Left as well as the far Right, anti-Zionism uses a type of discourse and stereotypes concerning the “Jewish/Zionist lobby,” Israeli/Jewish “criminality,” and Sharonist “warmongering” that is fundamentally manipulative and anti-Semitic. This has penetrated the mainstream debate to the point…where “anti-Zionist” attacks on Jewish institutions and targets show that we are talking about a distinction without a difference. Anti-Zionism is not only the historic heir of earlier forms of anti-Semitism. Today, it is also the lowest common denominator and the bridge between the Left, the Right, and the militant Muslims; …a point of convergence between conservatives and radicals and a connecting link between fathers and sons. Anti-Zionism is much more than an exotic collection of radical-chic slogans that survived the debacle of the late-1960s counterculture. It has become an “exterminationist,” pseudo-redemptive ideology reconstructed in the Middle East and reexported back to Europe with devastating effects.

In the nearly two decades since Dr. Wistrich published those words, these anti-AIPAC agitators—whether those calmly informing a Jew that Jews should get down on their knees or those shrieking epithets at conference attendees—show that his analysis rings truer than ever.

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Samantha Mandeles is Senior Researcher and Outreach Director at the Legal Insurrection Foundation.

 

 
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