Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism

Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism

A sign held at a Brooklyn Nakba rally on May 15

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Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) Day, held on May 15 each year, is marked by Palestinians and their supporters, including many anti-Israel activists, as a day to mourn the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and advocate for the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees. This year, on May 14 and 15, approximately 35 events were held across the United States, with attendance ranging from approximately a dozen to several hundred. Organizers included anti-Israel groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestinian Youth Movement (which have chapters across the U.S.), along with local anti-Zionist activist organizations. 

While most rhetoric did not veer into antisemitism or support for violence, a significant segment did, descending into expressions of support for terror groups or attacks against Israelis. This included a speaker in Dearborn, MI, who endorsed rocket and knife attacks. In several rallies, inflammatory remarks were made against “Zionism” and “Zionists,” including a speaker in Chicago who announced an initiative aimed at “sanctioning the Zionism movement” and to “de-platform and defund Zionist institutions.” At a rally in the Bay Area, a speaker led a chant of “no Zionism in our town!” Such anti-Zionist rhetoric, which seeks to vilify and ostracize “Zionists,” constitutes a wholesale attack on American Jews, a majority of whom view a connection with Israel, and support for its right to exist, as part of their Jewish religious, cultural and/or ethnic identities. 

Emotions were high following the tragic killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla on May 11 in Jenin. Abu Aqla was commemorated in both speeches and posters. Outrage was often expressed, along with calls for justice and accountability. More broadly, attendees expressed a variety of grievances related to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Many alleged that Israel is a settler colonial and apartheid state that has engaged in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinians. Chants of "Intifada!" were common, as well as "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." While some interpret this as a general plea for Palestinian rights and equality, many understand it as a call for Israel to be dismantled and replaced with a Palestinian state. 

Expressions of support for violence 

  • May 15, Dearborn, MI: Osama Siblani, the publisher of Arab American News, explicitly endorsed violent attacks on Israelis, including with rockets, guns and knives:  
    • “We are the Arabs that are going to lift Palestinians all the way to victory. Whether we are in Michigan, and whether we are in Jenin. Believe me. Everyone should fight within his means. They will fight with stones. Others will fight with guns. Others will fight with planes, drones. And others will fight with rockets. And others will fight in their voice, and the others will fight with their hands and say free, free Palestine!”  
    • “They [Palestinian fighters] strike them [Israelis] with knives and on their holidays, and they are victorious.” 
  • May 15, Brooklyn, NY:  
    • A rally featured a table displaying a book by terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and t-shirts emblazoned with “globalize the intifada.” In 1997, PFLP was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States Department of State, which cites the group as having carried out “large-scale international attacks in the 1960s and 1970s, including airline hijackings that killed more than 20 U.S. citizens.” PFLP is also responsible for numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians in Israel and the West Bank, including a bomb attack that killed 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb in 2019 and a shooting and meat cleaver attack that claimed the lives of four worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue in 2014.​​​​​
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism
    • After protestors failed to set an IDF flag alight, anti-Israel activist and Within Our Lifetime leader Nerdeen Kiswani took the flag and ripped it as rally-goers chanted “Fire, fire colonizer!”
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism
    • The PFLP flag was spotted among the crowd of marchers.
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism
  • Paterson, NJ, May 14: 
    • A speaker from anti-Israel organization Al-Awda NY called for "armed resistance" against Israel during her speech at a rally. 
  • Los Angeles, CA, May 15:  
    • The vice president of the Palestinian American Women’s Association, who was introduced as Noora, suggested all Israelis should be expelled from Israel and referred to the “stench of white European invaders,” perpetuating the idea that Jews are interlopers and have no connection to the land of Israel:  
      • “We are many generations here today! We are the ones who fought the British, the ones who fought the Zionists, and we are the ones who will slay Goliath! Our unity rests on an unyielding commitment to the Right of Return! Tell me, how do you imagine your return? ...How do you imagine the feeling of being home in a liberated Palestine without the stench of white European invaders?” 
    • Some protestors chanted (in Arabic) “Live Palestine! Death to Israel!” 
  • Philadelphia, PA May 15:
    • In a poster asking participants to “imagine a free Palestine,” an individual wrote “death to Israel.”
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism

Denigration and vilification of Zionism and Zionists 

  • Paterson, NJ,  May 14:
    • In a speech, Brian Ford, who self-identified as an educator and activist with Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), went on a diatribe about the allegedly deleterious impact of Zionists on free speech for Palestinians and their supporters, stating that a recent summit on antisemitism at New York University organized by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and Hillel (the premier Jewish student group in the U.S.) was part of the "ongoing Nakba." At another point during his speech, he seemingly dismissed the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel: "Homes are destroyed and families are dispossessed of land [by Israel] so that Aunt Lydia from Queens can retire in the 'homeland.’” 
  • Washington D.C., May 15:  
    • Chant: “Down with Zionism!”  
    • A self-described anti-Zionist Jew stated: “Zionism is not Jewish, it is simply a crime against humanity.” 
    • A speaker from activist group Pan African Community Action implored attendees to “fight Zionism and colonialism.” 
  • Los Angeles, CA, May 15:  
    • An attendee carried a sign reading “Zionism=Nazism” 
    • Chant: “hey hey ho ho! Zionism has got to go!” 
  • New York City, May 15: 
    • JVP NY posted a photo on Instagram of a rally-goer holding a sign reading “Death to Zionism.” This photo made up one slide of a post that was “liked” by New York State Assembly member Zohran Momdani (who appears in one of the slides). 
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism
  • Dearborn, MI, May 15:  
    • Tarek Bawardi, president of SJP at the University of Michigan, Dearborn stated: “A better understanding of Zionism and its hijacking of Jewish identity is essential for creating a dynamic where Arabs and Jews can be unified in their fight for Palestine's liberation.” 
    • JVP Detroit posted a photo of a supporter with a sign reading “Zionism is fascism.” 
      • Some Nakba Day Events Descend into Support for Violence, Antisemitism
  •  Seattle, WA May 15:  
    • A speaker lamented the “normalization of Zionism and complacency in academia.” 
    • Seattle University SJP announced a BDS resolution and petition that called for supporters to “stand with SJP against the university’s continued complicit behavior regarding Zionism.” 
  • San Francisco, CA May 14: 
    • A speaker stated: “no more excuses for Zionist normalization, no more excuses for Zionist complicity and no more support for the Zionist project! Whether you were raised here or you were not raised here, the Bay Area stands against Zionism. Let's end with one of my favorite chants: ‘Rise up, don't lie down! No Zionism in our town!’”