This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference (PC). Sunday morning, as I arrived at the convention center, I noticed the presence of about ten protesters holding Palestinian flags and signs which denounced AIPAC for being “white supremacist”.
However, I kept my pace and entered the conference center. The protesters didn’t seem like much nor did it really catch my attention—at first. Because by midday, hundreds (about 500 according to Washington D.C. Police) of protesters lined up outside, some wearing masks and others holding signs. They unveiled a Palestinian flag that could have measured about fifty feet in length. As the chants got louder, PC delegates lined the windows which overlooked the packed street. You could see scatters of religious Jewish men integrated within the crowd.
I huddled around the glass and gawked at the protesters, which by then were almost yelling at the top of their lungs. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I see an older gentleman wearing a pro-Israel shirt who was standing at the corner with Israeli and American flags, was now confronting the protesters. At that moment, some of the protesters diverted their attention to this man, and within two minutes, he was surrounded by at least twenty loud, angry, and clueless of them. To his defense came what appeared to be two teenagers who peacefully engaged in conversation with some of the more relaxed protesters. I did not know what they were saying, but I did, however, know their intentions — to defend the only true democracy in the Middle East that supports human rights.
These teenagers sparked controversy across us delegates who spectated from above. Some were proud that someone finally stood up, but some thought these kids were crazy for going down there. Personally, I think they were brave but gave legitimacy to those with an unfounded cause. By engaging in conversation and debate with violent and angry rioters, the teens acknowledged their viewpoint, which gave the protesters legitimacy. It would have been different, however, if the PC delegates and a couple of the dissenters had a civilized conversation about their ideas. This was not the case.
Engage in productive debate and conversation backed by factual evidence with those who believe in the BDS movement, a so-called “apartheid” Israel, and anti-Zionism. However, when you are confronted with violent protesters, do not confront them; do not legitimize them, and do not engage them.