At a pro-Hamas rally on Sunday in the heart of New York City, speaker after speaker praised the slaughter of civilians that had taken place in Israel the day before, after the militant group overwhelmed Israeli defenses in an audacious, unexpected raid.
“And as you might have seen, there was some sort of rave or desert party where they were having a great time, until the resistance came in electrified hang gliders and took at least several dozen hipsters,” one speaker joked about the Hamas assault on a desert rave, where horrific scenes of murder and rape took place.
It was a bracing spectacle that countered the grief pouring in from most civic leaders, from Brooklyn to Berlin. But it was also evidence of a split within the Democratic Party, with many younger activists, forged in the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, viscerally identifying with the Palestinian cause. Israel’s founding story, as a quasi-socialist refuge for Holocaust survivors and other landless Jews, resonates less and less, especially as younger generations show little knowledge about the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis.
The controversial rally in Times Square was hosted by the Democratic Socialists of America, a far-left organization that includes several prominent House members in its ranks, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, both of New York; Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who is the first Palestinian woman in Congress; and Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, an outspoken critic of Israel.
In a widely criticized statement, Tlaib seemed to blame Israel for provoking the attack with its occupation regime in Gaza and the West Bank. “The failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer,” ” she said.
Billed as “All Out for Palestine,” the event symbolized fractures in a Democratic establishment that was once solidly behind Israel. But as Israel’s own government has moved steadily rightward, pulled along by religious fundamentalists and West Bank settlers, the American left has embraced liberation struggles — including the fight for Palestinian statehood — with a newfound zeal, imbuing their message with the jargon of social justice.
“Palestine’s struggle is our struggle,” one Black Lives Matter activist said in 2021. Jewish activism was central to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, but more than a half-century later, the bonds between American Blacks and Jews have largely been severed.
Sunday’s rally appeared to conflate the terrorist group Hamas with the entire Palestinian people, who over the years have grown as exasperated with the extremists in their own midst as with the Israeli occupiers of the West Bank and Gaza, who have killed thousands of Palestinians, including many civilians throughout the years in antiterror operations. In fact, the Hamas incursions appear to have triggered a massive Israeli military reprisal that is likely to kill hundreds if not thousands of innocent Palestinians while achieving none of the “liberation” that progressives tout on social media.
As the crowd marched through midtown Manhattan and coalesced around a stage in Times Square, attendees called for an “intifada revolution.” Others mocked the murder of Israeli civilians. Another popular chant was “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” an implicit call for the elimination of Israel.
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“Among the pro-Palestinian side, the mood was celebratory and spiteful. Demonstrators chanted '700,' apparently referring to the confirmed number of Israeli fatalities in the attack so far,” reported the Times of Israel, “and held up the number seven on their hands while making throat-slitting gestures. Others flashed victory signs with their hands while shouting insults.”
Ahead of the rally, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the planned event, calling it “abhorrent and morally repugnant.” Rep. Ritchie Torres, a rising New York progressive, stood up for Israel as well.
“Demonizing Israel — to the point of denying the humanity of Israeli victims and the inhumanity of their perpetrators — is moral confusion masquerading as moral clarity,” Torres said.
But none of the DSA-affiliated members of Congress, including the two from New York, appeared to express a similar concern. They are likely to face pressure from peers, journalists and constituents as they return to Capitol Hill for what was already expected to be a chaotic week in Washington. Saturday’s violence puts progressives in a bind: They want to show their solidarity with the Palestinian cause without endorsing the murder of innocents. So far, they have not found a way to do so.