Anti-Israel Groups Attempt to Co-Opt Occupy Wall Street Message

  • November 15, 2011

The anti-Israel left is engaged in a coordinated effort to unite their cause with the Occupy Wall Street ("OWS") protests taking place in hundreds of cities around the country. In recent weeks, anti-Israel signs have been spotted at OWS protests and several anti-Israel groups have begun to organize campaigns using the language of OWS in an attempt to exploit the enthusiasm of the movement and channel it for their cause.  


The first formal attempt to unite OWS and the anti-Israel movement came from the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee, the coordinating body of the global BDS campaign against Israel. On October 13, 2011, the committee issued a statement expressing solidarity with OWS and describing the objectives of the two movements as similar. The statement, titled "Occupy Wall Street not Palestine!," called on Occupy protesters to incorporate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into their demands: "So as you break your own chains and build your own effective resistance against corporate tyranny, we ask you to demand a just peace for all the peoples in the Middle East… Palestinians, too, are part of the 99% around the world that suffer at the hands of the 1% whose greed and ruthless quest for hegemony have led to unspeakable suffering and endless war."


This sentiment was again expressed by an anti-Israel activist while being interviewed on Democracy Now!, a left-wing radio station, two weeks later. In response to the U.S. decision to vote against admitting Palestine into UNESCO, the activist, a woman named Phyllis Bennis who works for the Institute for Policy Studies, said, "What we are really seeing there is really a classic example of the one percent, where most of our interests do not lie, controlling the 99 percent, the one percent being Israel and its supporters in the United States…"

In recent weeks, anti-Israel rhetoric has become increasingly visible at OWS protests in several U.S. cities:

Boston, MA:
  • November 4: Two dozen protesters walked from Occupy Boston to the Israeli Consulate and staged a brief sit-in in the lobby of the building. The protesters chanted, "Occupy the consulate, not Palestine, militarization is a crime;" "Hey hey, ho ho, Israeli apartheid's got to go;" "Viva viva Palestina" and other chants. The action appeared to be officially sanctioned by the local Occupy chapter in Boston because the event appeared on the calendar of Occupy Boston's Web site.
  • October 18: Jewish Women for Justice in Palestine held a demonstration and march at Occupy Boston to protest Israel's "occupation of Palestine." The protest was held under the slogan, "Occupy Boston – Not Palestine." One protester who was interviewed in a local student newspaper said, "We need to build houses in the U.S. instead of destroying houses in Palestine."
New York, NY:

Various Israel-related signs have been spotted at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, including a sign that read, "Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street," and a poster featuring the Handala (an icon of Palestinian resistance) with the words, "Occupy Wall $t. Revolution until Victory."

  • November 13: Members of Adalah-NY went to Zuccotti Park and presented a message of solidarity from the Palestinian BDS National Committee followed by a Q&A session on the "growing movement for BDS against Israel until it complies with international law."
  • October 28: Several demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and chanted pro-Palestinian messages like "Free, Free Palestine" and Long Live Palestine! Occupy Wall Street." The day's protests had been billed as "Keffiyah Day at Occupy Wall Street."
  • October 14-16: Students attending the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference taking place at Columbia University went downtown to the Occupy protest. Ilana Rossoff, a recent graduate of Hampshire College and one of the student organizers, addressed the general assembly of the protest.
Chicago, IL:
  • October 22: Representatives of the SJP chapter at the University of Illinois at Chicago attended an Occupy protest in Chicago. One protester held a sign reading, "Students For Justice in Palestine UIC. We stand with the 99%. SJP-UIC."
  • October 8: Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, spoke at an OWS protest and advocated for BDS against Israel, which he described as a "criminal, pariah state."

Some anti-Israel groups, sensing that the language and message of the Occupy movement is amenable to the anti-Israel cause, have overtly expressed support for the "Occupy" movement and/or have initiated campaigns using Occupy-esque language:

  • The youth division of Jewish Voice for Peace launched a campaign called "Occupy the Occupiers," which plans to disrupt pro-Israel events and venues and "occupy" institutions that "obstruct human rights for Palestinians." The initiative calls on individuals to "join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and with our Palestinian siblings living under their own form of occupation," an overt attempt to exploit OWS and assert common cause between the pro-Palestinian movement and the Occupy protesters.
  • The National Association of Muslim American Women recently issued a call on its Facebook page asking individuals in New York and Washington D.C. to go to Occupy protests carrying "signs demanding economic justice for Gaza and an end to the illegal economic siege on Gaza."
  • If Americans Knew, an anti-Israel organization, posted fliers on their Web site that can be downloaded and distributed at OWS protests. The fliers, which are headlined, "Occupy Wall Street… not Palestine!" play on the worries and fears of the OWS movement and allege, "While people are losing jobs, homes, and hope, politicians – dominated by powerful special interests – are sending more of our tax money to Israel than to any other country on earth." 

While much has been made of the few isolated incidents of anti-Semitism at these protests, the issue of anti-Israel groups infiltrating OWS is more prevalent and has potential to become a part of the movement. The most worrisome example of this development occurred during the recent Freedom Waves flotilla to Gaza. While it was sailing toward Gaza, a tweet went out from Occupy Wall Street's Twitter page that read, "We support and would like to express #solidarity to #FreedomWaves #Palestine #ows." The tweet was then deleted several hours later because, as an OWS spokesperson explained, although "many people involved in OWS support the liberation of Palestine…we have not been able to come to consensus on certain issues that are outside the scope of the original message of OWS." Shortly after the message was deleted, the Occupy contingent in Fort Worth tweeted, "Our support for #Gaza and #Freedomwaves is limitless. It emanates and echoes from the deepest purest regions of our heart. Love. Solidarity."

"Long Live Palestine! Occupy Wall Street;" "Gaza Supports the Occupation of Wall Street;" "Occupy Wall $t. Revolution until Victory" -- Signs and slogans at Occupy Wall Street protests across the United States Share via Twitter Share via Facebook

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