Walking down the hallway of one of my university’s buildings, I stopped to look at the dozens of flyers tacked on the corkboard that lines the wall. There were posters for events on campus, internships, and graduate programs, but the one that caught my eye wasn’t concerned with academia or professional opportunities. No, the one that I saw said this:
“Support Palestine! Protest AIPAC! #SupportPalestineinDC2016”
This wasn’t the first time I had encountered anti-Israel sentiment on my campus, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. My first thought upon seeing the poster was to rip it down, but when I went to grab it, my hand wavered. I read the location of the planned protest, and realized that whoever made the flyers and posted them didn’t know that the location of the conference had been changed. While the new convention center isn’t too far from the old one, I know that seeing a hoard of people standing outside an empty convention center, protesting AIPAC, would bring me nothing but glee.
My second thought upon seeing the poster, though, was a bit more troubling: who put this up? There’s no SJP at my school, and I doubt the MSA would do this. There’s a dialogue group on campus dedicated to Israeli-Palestinian affairs, and one board member once told me the president of that club, a Jewish student, “basically thinks he’s Palestinian.” Was it him? Perhaps, but I can’t be sure.
Maybe it was one of the anti-Israel professors. There’s a couple on campus, but outside the classroom (of of course, outside of being BDS signatories), they don’t make too much racket.
Maybe it was one of the Palestinian students acting alone. There’s a few on campus that I’m aware of, but again, they don’t seem terribly motivated, and I doubt they would dedicate time and effort in printing out flyers to hang up in the halls.
A quick google search led me to the Facebook event for the protest. According to the event, 870 people are going to meet at the White House on March 20th and then march to (the wrong) convention center, likely chanting about how evil AIPAC and Israel are, how “Palestine will be free” and how the ‘occupation’ must end. There’s a GoFundMe page for the event, which has raised just shy of $13,400 – money that will go toward more of these flyers, travel costs, a sound system, backup generator, and a whole slew of other related expenses.
I’m attending AIPAC’s Policy Conference in Washington that weekend. I’ll be surrounded by politicians and policymakers, activists and advocates, business executives, and religious leaders. I’ll learn from the best and the brightest, I’ll speak with those whose voices reach millions, and I’ll be ever-grateful for the fantastic network of individuals who have made it their mission to support the state of Israel.
And I’ll find this protest. It won’t be my first encounter with an anti-Israel tirade. I attended the Jewish National Fund’s conference in Chicago in October 2015, where over 200 protesters screamed about the Israeli military’s ‘illegal occupation’ and several members of the Jewish Voice for Peace – a misleading group that, while perhaps comprised of Jewish members, is staunchly anti-Israel – stormed into the hotel where the conference was taking place. Along with the Arab American Action Network and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist network (the latter of which groups I can not even speculate on the basis of), these groups attempted to interrupt a conference that sought to educate its 1200+ participants about the State of Israel and the Jewish connection to this land.
The Jewish National Fund is an incredible organization, whose founding in 1901 made it possible for Jews to return to Israel and purchase and cultivate land, allowing the former desert to turn into an oasis. JNF also sponsors trips to Israel, where students are given the opportunity to give back to the land of Israel like their ancestors did, planting trees, rebuilding schools, and volunteering in communities. The idea that a group of angry protesters would storm into a hotel to scream about a group that plants trees to make Israel a beautiful, livable country, seems needlessly silly. And yet, they did it.
AIPAC will be a whole other world. The conference is bigger, the stakes are bigger, and the opposition – massive. Trees are one thing, politics are another. There is no doubt in my mind I will be forced to experience the treacherous environment these ‘Support Palestine’ protesters plan to create. I take comfort in knowing that when I step outside the convention center, even if a crowd of protesters is already screaming, I will be surrounded by people who stand together in the face of such absurdity. I will stand tall next to my fellow advocates and activists and supporters of the State of Israel. I will not be deterred.
But I will certainly relish the idea that these protesters might end up at the wrong convention center.