Every year on May 15, Palestinians and their supporters, including many anti-Israel activists, mark Nakba Day (“catastrophe” in Arabic) as a day of mourning the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Events also highlight the plight of Palestinian refugees and advocate for the Right of Return. Historically, there have been numerous instances of inflammatory and antisemitic language espoused by anti-Israel activists at Nakba Day events. The 2023 events were no exception.
From May 12 to May 21, 2023, 25 events across the United States, from rallies to vigils and banner drops, commemorated Nakba Day. There was also a flurry of social media activity. On multiple occasions, anti-Israel activists used the events to express support for terrorism/terrorists or engage in the antisemitic vilification of Zionism and Zionists. In at least four instances, participants espoused rhetoric that played into classic antisemitic themes.
Of particular note, at rally in Washington, D.C., Rafiki Morris of the Black Alliance for Peace (a self-described anti-war and human rights group) was met with enthusiastic applause when he told the crowd: “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.” Morris later doubled down in a Facebook post: “Zionist[sic] are mass murderers, thieves, spies, fascists', racists, imperialists and settler colonialists. Everywhere on the planet the punishment for mass murder and genocide is death.”
Map of Nakba Day Rallies, Protests, Vigils and Banner Drops in the U.S., 5/12 to 5/21/2023
A notable number of rallygoers expressed support for members of terror groups or for violence/terror against Israel. This support included, most notably, posters of and speeches lauding Khader Adnan at rallies in Dallas, Seattle, and Brooklyn. Adnan was a spokesperson for the U.S.-designated terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) who recently died in an Israeli prison while on hunger strike.
On other occasions, Leila Khaled (currently based in Jordan) was venerated. Khaled is a member of the U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and is well-known for her role in the hijacking of two civilian airliners, TWA Flight 840 in 1969 (bound for Tel Aviv from Rome) and El Al flight 219 in 1970 (traveling from Amsterdam to New York City).
- Dallas, May 12: Posters of with images of Khader Adnan and the slogan “glory to our martyrs”
- Seattle, May 13: Posters with the phrase “Honor Khader Adnan.”
- Brooklyn, May 13: At a rally organized by New York City-based anti-Zionist activist group Within Our Lifetime, participants held signs with a quote from Khader Adnan: “Dignity is neither bought nor sold. It can only be seized by force.”
- Brooklyn, May 13: Nerdeen Kisawni, leader of the New York City-based anti-Zionist group Within Our Lifetime, stated: “And as we stand here, I want us to remember another Palestinian martyr, Khader Adnan, who was a Palestinian resistance leader imprisoned by the Israeli government and Israeli prisons over and over and over again...”
- Seattle, May 13: A protester had an image on their shirt of PFLP member Leila Khaled carrying a rifle.
- At the same rally in Seattle, a speaker from Anakbayan South Seattle (a left-wing Filipino youth group) quoted Leila Khaled and praised her: “In the words of Khaled, we cannot say that nonviolent resistance alone will achieve our rights through the histories of our struggles. Women have thrown stones are taking up the gun to defend the people in the fight for sovereignty in the face of seemingly endless violence from Israel. The movement for Palestinian liberation has staunchly remained a united front of the people fighting back by any means necessary.”
Support for “Intifada"
Some demonstrators held signs promoting an “intifada,” recalling the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas. The Second Intifada was one of the most violent and deadly eras of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during which over 1000 Israeli civilians were killed and many thousands more injured by terror groups.
- Brooklyn, May 13: Rally-goers carried signs reading “globalize the intifada” and chanted “from Bay Ridge to Palestine, globalize the intifada,” recalling the First and Second Palestinian Intifadas.
- Los Angeles, May 13: “Intifada until victory” was written on posters.
Other Expressions of Support for Terrorism/Violence and Terrorists
- Times Square, May 14: A speaker lauded Udai Tamimi, who killed an Israeli soldier in October 2022:
- “When our resistance fighters are threatened such as the example of Udai Tamimi in Jerusalem our youth collectively shape their heads to protect his identity.”
- Times Square, May 14: Lamis Deek, an anti-Israel activist with Al-Awda, said:
- “….we must understand that the Palestinian resistance the Palestinian freedom fighters are the protectors of global morality and peace. They are not just fighting the Zionist colonizing entity they are fighting to protect the world from the legacy of supremacist apartheid. They are fighting to protect the world from an order and instability caused by sheer brutal torturous violence. ... And I say this not just to salute the Palestinian resistance, I say this to ask that people carry through in their demands the immediate and urgent need to support and protect the Palestinian resistance. That we ask for all people of conscience and our governments to ensure that Palestinians have all available material political and financial means to defend themselves against the brutal and hateful Zionist colonizer.”
- Boston, May 15: Promotional flyers for Boston’s Nakba Day rally included violent imagery of missiles and slingshots, including captions such as “There is no safety for settlers on stolen land.”
Vilification of Zionism and Zionists
Zionism, broadly defined as the movement for Jewish self-determination and statehood in Israel, the Jewish people’s historic homeland, is embraced by most American Jews. Regardless of their views on specific Israeli policies, most Jews consider a connection to Israel, and support for its right to exist, to be a part of their Jewish identity. Labelling Zionism and Zionists as inherently nefarious has the antisemitic impact of denigrating and stigmatizing the vast majority of Jews. At Nakba Day rallies this year, protestors called for Zionism to be extinguished and compared Zionism to Nazism and genocide:
- Seattle, May 13th: A speaker at the Seattle rally remarked: “Zionism is racism because it requires Palestinian erasure. Zionism is modeled after all forms of European colonialism. This is just the truth. This is history. Zionism creates a system that privileges Jewish lives, especially white European ones over all others.”
- Brooklyn, May 13: Protestors chanted: “Zionism will fall!” and a protestor held a sign with the same message:
- Brooklyn, May 13: Protestors chanted in Arabic: “Say it loud say it clear, we don’t want Zionists here.”
- Times Square, May 14: “the Palestinian people are fighting back like the Jewish people did in the Warsaw Ghetto against the same kind of ideology, the twisted ideology of Zionism that’s so much like Nazism.”
- Ahead of a rally May 13 in Philadelphia, the Philly Palestine Coalition displayed a banner on a highway overpass reading “Zionism=Racism.”
- Times Square, May 14: A protestor held a sign containing the message “Zionism is genocide!”
- San Francisco, May 13: A demonstrator held a sign reading, “Fuck Zionists!!! Y’all r ugly!!”
Playing into Classic Antisemitic Tropes
- Times Square, May 14: An individual who introduced themselves as Selma from the social justice-focused ANSWER Coalition dovetailed with the historic antisemitic theme that Jews are greedy and opposed to the interests of working people:
- “The US sends billions to Israel because they see it as an investment, because the billions sent to Israel are used to buy weapons from American manufacturers, and like we said before every time that a bomb is dropped in Gaza there's an American billionaire that gets a little richer. Billions of dollars are sent to Israel while people in this country sleep on the streets. Our duty then is to organize the working-class people in this country…”
- Times Square, May 14: Lamis Deek, an attorney and leader of anti-Zionist group Al-Awda, alleged that “Zionists” who move to Israel (most of whom are Jews) “take themselves from their comfy homes in New York” to do so. Such language dangerously dangerously suggests both that all/most Jews live in New York and that they overwhelmingly privileged and wealthy:
- “Yes, we take to the streets but we must think and do better, whether it's on our communities whether it's pressuring our Congress people whether it's exposing naming and shaming and demanding the prosecution of Zionists who take themselves from their comfy homes in New York to colonize and kill and terrorize our people in Palestine. They should be prosecuted under the U.S. Federal War Crimes act. So speak out and remember that that Zionists should not be aiding and abetting war crimes. It is Criminal under U.S law, as it is under international law.”
- The Palestinian Youth Movement issued a “political poster newspaper” to mark Nakba Day. Notably, one such poster depicts Zionism as a snake grabbed by a fist demonstrating the “power in our people’s unity coming together to grab the foreign invader.”
- Al-Awda NY and anti-Israel activist Lamis Deek shared an antisemitic tweet suggesting that “Israeli salad” is made with the blood of Palestinian children, drawing a rough parallel to the antisemitic allegation that Jews use the blood of non-Jews for ritualistic purposes.